“Mr Speaker, please stop this yellow taxi from leaving the House,” Muslim League MP Sheikh Rashid Ahmed called out, as the then prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, left her seat to go out of Parliament. Benazir, then in her first term as PM (1988-90) and clad in a yellow kamiz shalwar suit with her trademark white duppata over her head, did not bother to respond as she exited.
Pakistan People’s Party workers were livid; they worshipped the very ground Benazir walked on, and called her ‘Bibi’ out of reverence. It is another story that later Rashid Ahmed was jailed for possession of unlicensed weapons. At least he was safe from diehard PPP supporters.
Earlier, during the election campaign, the Muslim League had resorted to a ‘dirty tricks’ campaign against Benazir and her mother Nusrat, where their photographs were printed in newspapers in a crude cut-and-paste job. The man who had orchestrated that campaign was Hussain Haqqani, the former Pakistan ambassador to the US.
As coarse attempts are being made to defame foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar and the PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, it is the irresponsible social media that appears to be carrying on a systematic campaign to this end.
Contrarily, latest photographs showing Khar and President Asif Ali Zardari talking relaxedly at the UN General Assembly sessions speak louder than the tasteless stories being bruited around.
The real issue is not about the Bhuttos or Khars. It is that if you are young, beautiful and a high-profile female politician in Pakistan, you are a soft target for sick minds and their ‘dirty tricks’ that seek to damage your reputation. Social media helps turn malicious gossip into scandals that turn viral on the net. These stories, where no distinction is made between movie stars and politicians, sell internationally. There are even sites dedicated to “beautiful Pakistani female politicians”.
Young and glamorous women politicians in Pakistan have been hounded for years. If it is Khar today and Benazir in the past, ambassador Sherry Rehman, parliamentarian Kashmala Tariq, speaker of the National Assembly Fehmeda Mirza and several others continue to be mired in unwanted gossip. All of these women ignore the rumours and continue to have successful careers.
In fact, when Khar first came into the assembly, she refused to be put into a ‘zanana dabba’ or ‘special women’s compartment’. When asked by Newsline what she would do for women’s rights, an inexperienced Khar said, “My father got me elected from a general seat. In our country, both men and women have issues that need to be resolved. Neither have what you may consider basic rights—the right to clean drinking water, the right to enough water to irrigate their lands, the right to basic health and sanitation facilities, the right to educate themselves, the right to have access to electricity and roads. Let us please try to give them these rights and then we can talk about women’s rights and men’s rights.”
It is common sense that most voters who have reposed their faith in women leaders in the region are uneducated and illiterate. But at no time have they ever stooped low and spread vile canards about them. Never have they shown such inclination to gossip or scandal.
“In fact, it is this post-modern era, with its high-tech social media, controlled and consumed by the educated and the so-called liberals, that is responsible for targeting high-profile women, whether they are in politics or in other fields. You will not see an ordinary party worker in Pakistan ever discussing such trash. Whether Benazir Bhutto, Indira Gandhi or Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the majority of their supporters were illiterate but had more grace than the class that goes around as the ‘educated’ today,” says TV host and columnist Nusrat Javeed.
Recently, another very young politician, Iman Hazir Mazari, daughter of the well known Dr Shireen Mazari, left Imran Khan’s Tehreek e-Insaf. Amongst other reasons for her resignation is her continuous, abusive hounding in the social media. Mazari is barely twenty.
“One thing I have put up with for the past six months is abuse and character assassination. My self-respect and principles are more important to me than a party that continues to attack me. Being called a ‘prostitute’, or hearing/reading insults regarding my late grandfather by PTI workers is unacceptable. Yes, I wear what I want and I live my personal life the way I want to—that is between me and myself; no one...will ever have a right to comment on it. I will never make any apologies for the way I choose to live my personal life,” she wrote on her blog.
The ‘story’ involving Khar and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was first planted in an obscure Bangladeshi publication. Needless to say, the merely dressed up gossip was handled in an unprofessional manner. No attempts were made to get the viewpoint of the subjects. The publication might have sold well, but in the process the publishers sacrificed and traduced all principles of journalism.
As expected, Indian publications and broadcast media picked the story up, as befits their obsession with Khar’s ‘glamorous looks’. In this case, the ‘glamour’ surrounding the gossip involving Khar and Bilawal was lapped up greedily, as both are highly saleable. It was the Indian media that went berserk over Khar’s looks, apparel and accessories when she visited New Delhi in July 2011.
However, in Pakistan itself, the report has been roundly rubbished. No newspaper or TV channel has touched it. They know fully that it is trash, and have treated it as such. The government so far has not even dignified it with a response. Khar has not only been the country’s youngest and first female foreign minister, but one of the successful ones at that. Her diplomacy and handling of her portfolio has been lauded in the corridors of power in various countries, whether Washington DC, Kabul or Berlin.
It is quite clear that these speculations started when Khar was in New York to represent Pakistan in the UN general assembly, and was designed to divert attention to her equation with Zardari, who is also there as head of state. It’s also significant that her visit as foreign minister comes at a very crucial point in Pakistan-US relations. Also, Khar has recently had a very successful trip to Berlin, and stole the thunder from her Indian counterpart in Islamabad during bilateral talks in early September.
On the eve of the general elections, political opponents know how such a scandal could damage Khar’s image in her conservative constituency. Pakistani foreign ministers have rarely returned to parliament, as they remain out of touch with voters due to constant travel. Khar had an advantage as her father, a seasoned parliamentarian, was doing much of the work at the ground level.
Someone who knows Pakistan well, after spending five years here, is India’s PTI correspondent Rezaul Hasan Laskar, who responded to all the social media hullabaloo: “All those tweeting to me about reports of a ‘relationship’—please stop, I’m not interested & will not respond to such crap.” Maybe the rest of the Indian media should follow suit.
Apropos Worms at Work (Oct 8), the author has not put anything credible before us to discount the story she refutes—of an affair between Hina Rabbani Khar and Bilawal Zardari. Yet she wants us to believe it’s a plant.
It is in any womans genes to complain about how "unfair" the world is to them as a gender. And howuch better males are treated.
And it is in the genes of the media and most other males to believe these tall claims.
While the fact is that woman, especially beautiful ones, are supported in their careers far more than older males.
well the authoress is herself doing bias with people working in movie industry,point is if u r offended just file a defamation suit in a bangladeshi court but u r trying to have medicines and not sideeffects.Don`t u think politician take votes by fooling millions of people with their so called images that people even try to worship the land wich politicians walk and how much innoccent people feel sorry when the same politicians are found to be doing million dollar scams
The real story I feel is more about Bilawal .... look at his face and eyes in the photo, like our own Rahul Babalog, he also looks like a "babe in the woods" - clueless, out of place and wanting to be somewhere else. Just that Bilawal Babalog looks younger and handsomer and not too stressed. Whereas our very own Rahul Babalog looks stressed too with the weight of Congress expectations weighing heavily on him.
The author has not placed anything credible to discount the story than claiming it as a plant , in fact the story was twisted to put the onus of planting on ISI ...the media in the entire subcontinent picked it up and surely had nothing to do with how they perceive women in Pakistan. Sherry Rehman publicly smokes , I don't think the subcontinent media picked it up and made major story out of it. the reality is in this story there is some smoke and without which there would not have been the fire . lastly, public figures cannot claim private life, contradictory to their public face .......madam author reconcile and put up credible defence next time!
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