Pakistan · politics · women · women's rights

Vultures circle Pakistan

Today seems a particularly fortuitous day to reflect on the leadership of Pakistan.

Former Pakistani Prime-Minister Nawaz Sharif swoops back after seven years of exile for his dramatic comeback today- with Pakistani media abuzz on the impact of his return.

Would he be exiled, executed or arrested? What would the impact of his comeback be in the wake of a year of disasters for the General Dictator Pervez Musharraf from sacked Chief justices, militant mosque massacres and secret deals with former Prime-Minister Benazir Bhutto?

The interesting piece in this political love triangle is of course the feudal fair-skinned princess Benazir Bhutto.

The case of Benazir is interesting . The first-ever democratically elected female leader (89-90, 93-96) of a modern Muslim-majority state her story is a lesson for those who jump too gleefully at the sight of a woman- any woman in circles of political power.

Certainly in feminist terms, having women in political office as decision-makers and power-players is lauded as good for women everywhere. The idea being with women in power, the interests of women would surely not be ignored.

Simone de Beauvoir once said that her agitation meant nothing if all it would achieve was that one day a woman could be “President of Hoover”.

Although we really wanted to believe in Benazir, and even cheered for her despite the accumulation of a flimsy dupatta and rapidly lightening ghostly pallor, the signs that the Hoover I mean Pakistani leadership would not be genuinely affected with her at the helm became all too apparent.

We watched as the beautiful daughter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, whose highest previous post had been as President of the genteel Oxford Debating society, battled to keep her reigns on power, making compromises to appease the military and the Islamists, failing to repeal the infamous Hudood laws which allow a woman to be jailed for rape and letting her husband loot millions in government funds.

The wishful thinking which assumes that female leaders are somehow gentler, nicer, more reform and altruistic minded is not only misguided but positively dangerous.

The fact that women are not immune from the compromises, power games and maneuverings of politics is not a new discovery but it certainly is a cautionary tale for those of us who see some kind of holy-grail solution in the election of female Presidents and Prime-Ministers as the cure-all for the social and economic disparity women face.

Whilst politics may be a dirty business, it is necessary. We may sigh as our Oxford stars disappoint us but this should not preclude us supporting women from seeking and wielding power. It should however inoculate us against an uncritical and idealistic fervour with which we support female candidates.

As we eagerly await the outcome of this Pakistani love triangle, waiting for the lies and betrayals, holding our breath as somebody emerges broken-hearted and possibly shot, the Pakistani people, emerge again losers as the familiar vultures convulse the nation with their sickly greed.

2 thoughts on “Vultures circle Pakistan

  1. Wrote this while Sharif was en route:
    As I write, former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is on board a flight from London to Islamabad where an “airport terror alert” has been declared in an attempt to prevent those of his supporters who aren’t already under arrest from staging a fulsome welcome. Sharif’s political re-emergence comes after a Supreme Court ruling that he had the right to return from exile. Benazir Bhutto’s readiness to contemplate a power-sharing arrangement with President Musharraf has cost her political credibility, and Sharif plans to position himself as the “real” opposition leader.

    The emergence of Sharif as a champion of democracy is an unexpected turn of the political cycle. By the time he was deposed by President Musharraf in 1999, his rule had become so authoritarian that a military takeover hardly seemed to make much difference. Journalists and social activists, tired of being heavied by Sharif’s goons, cheered his departure.

    In 2000, with the Sharif males in prison, I visited his wife and daughter at their luxurious home in Lahore and their even more luxurious country estate. For many Pakistanis, the Sharifs’ palatial homes symbolised the corruption of the ruling class, so there was not much sympathy for the fact that the Sharif women had been placed under house arrest in these golden cages.

    Still, it was hard not to feel sorry for Sharif’s wife Kulsoom as she described the prison humiliations inflicted upon her husband and son. She was softly spoken and nervous, twisting a rubber band in her fingers in agitation. “Certain forces” wanted Pakistan to become like Spain, a land once ruled by Muslims, from which Muslims had been eliminated. Because her family would never allow such an event, her husband stood accused of terrorism and (the rubber band twisted more quickly) her son had been assaulted in prison.

    Daughter Maryam was more self-possessed – even queenly – but also more angry, not only at their fall from power but also at their abandonment by so many former supporters.

    “You cannot trust anyone. These people used to follow us everywhere. They would tell us “We are your cats and your dogs.” Now, we can’t get our own shadows to follow us.”

    A few months later, the Sharifs were released into exile, first to Saudi Arabia and then London. Until a few weeks ago, they were regarded as a spent force. But as Nawaz Sharif wings his way home, the cats and dogs seem to be returning.

  2. I find the quote by Simone de Beauvoir particularly interesting, especially having for a while been of the school of thought that maybe Bhutto’s greatest accomplishment was just being there. I realise now that is quite short-sighted. You can’t just settle for tokenism.

    I think Anita Roddick (the founder of the Body Shop- who died today), is great example of a female businesswoman who rather then just become part of the existing system actually transformed the system or at least had a large impact on the beauty and cosmetics industry. She was one of the first people to support more eco-friendly methods of production (before it was cool) and nearly all her products were sourced from the developing world (by sourced I don’t mean made in a sweat shop but actually helped to create business and empower women in those countries).

    On the Pakistan front, it looks as though they have deported Nawaz for now. I’m almost dissapointed, I was looking forward to something more dramatic.

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