When Aurat March was Attacked by Islamists in Islamabad

Source: Reuters

On March 8, when progressive and liberal women were marching for their rights in Islamabad, and the Islamist parties decided to march alongside them. No, hell did not freeze over. The “Haya March” or the “Honor March” was meant to counter the agenda of the Women’s March on International Women’s Day. And the ingenious Islamabad Capital Administration, which had to be convinced to allow space to Aurat Azadi March, thought it necessary to allow the Islamist rally to be held right next to it at the National Press Club.

A natural consequence of this disastrous setup was chaos, indiscipline, and violence resulting in multiple injuries. Fortunately, nobody lost their life, even though the savage mullahs almost ensured it. And many of us, the citizens of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, were there to witness it.

While I have not favored the idea of attending the women’s march for years, primarily because I believe that men should not occupy women’s space on the occasion. Especially when a lot of enemies of the march had infiltrated just to harass women, as a few cases came out. However, I knew it was different this time because it was more like an ideological battlefield and we had to show up to show solidarity, other than covering it for a documentary. And the protest plot outside the National Press Club sure looked like a battlefield alright.

The March day afternoon was partly clear after a rainy morning and the assembly area was all wet and muddy. A tent fence divided both sides of the road by the Press Club leading to the F6 market and on the far side, the Haya March and its rally were to take place. Before any activity would begin on the progressive side on the assembly area, the Jamaat-e-Islami women were done marching as bus after bus with Jamaat-e-Islami flags would transport workers to the venue. However, the burka-clad women stuck around, apart from the Hijabi types who were also leading a rally, for the speeches by the “Ulema” or religious scholar leaders of the three Islamist groups organizing the march, Jamaat-e-Islami, Sunni Ittehad, and JUI-F.

Throughout the day, inflammatory speeches were heard from the other side. In just about any given speech, women in the Aurat March, just a few meters away were condemned as prostitutes, as women who would sell their bodies to the highest bidder. Despite all the venom, which was left unnoticed by the Islamabad Capital Territory Police, apparently already bracing for a riot by the looks of their gear, no reaction came from the progressive side. Meanwhile, the police did not bother to intervene to stop the hate speech and did not think for a minute what consequences it could possibly have. It is funny how the Islamabad DC was having a hard time allowing the Aurat March but did not lift a finger when the participants of the reactionary Islamist March showed up.

However, after all the speeches of the high officials of the Islamist alliance were over, their women participants, very few of who got to even speak, were ordered to exit the venue. Once they were gone, all the “political workers” positioned themselves to attack the fragile tent curtain partition separating them from the Aurat March. They started throwing large stones, bricks, canes, and shoes at the Aurat March and finally stormed on, barely controlled by the cops.

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A few people even got injured during the assault who were taken for medical help. But perhaps the most dangerous instance was Women Democratic Front leader Ismat Shahjahan who led the fight in Islamabad getting hit by a stone in her head. This could very easily have resulted in anything and the goons from JUI-F, Jamaat-e-Islami, and Sunni Ittehad did not consider the possible consequences of their actions for a moment. They indeed carried out the threats of their leader made a few days ago.

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The most condemnable bit was that Islamabad Police, always pandering to the violent religious forces, had refused the Aurat March participants to go ahead on the agreed-upon route. Ironically, the ICT Headquarters building was right next to the Press Club. Led by Tooba Syed, the march stopped in front of the building and vowed to block the road until the march was permitted to follow its route all the way to D-Chowk near the Parliament House. She, along with many other women activists of the Women Democratic Front, showed immense courage in the face of threats to their lives and had their voices heard.

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Since the Lal Masjid controversy, Islamabad has essentially become a battleground for secular political elements and the established theocratic fundamentalists in the country. Perhaps nothing manifests this conflict better than this single incident during the Aurat March, one which could have so easily resulted in the loss of life.

However, the courage displayed by the women in the face of violence and intimidation, especially the leadership of Women Democratic Forum under Ismat Shahjahan and Tooba Syed, gave anyone witnessing those scenes goosebumps. So many had tears in their eyes on the way forward and on the way back, not because they were afraid, hurt, or intimidated, but because they were proud to be a part of history.

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This is why Aurat March looks like a revolution and perhaps without its moment, it would not have proved so iconic. Bold, confident, emancipated women pissing social conservative mullahs and their allies off so much that they can barely hold themselves back from attacking them. It is simply shocking but that is what defines gender relations in Pakistan today.

The women have spoken up. They are marching and nothing can stop them now.

The Lesson from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Fall

Source: geo.tv

There are several lessons that could be learned from the fall of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Poor leadership, terrible strategy, abandoning allies, pride, hubris, arrogance, narcissism, myopia, and having the little foresight of the inevitable. However, the most important lesson is meant more for the Pakistani people who seem to be repeating some of the mistakes of the ill-fated triple term Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was brought to prominence during the reign of the mighty General Zia-ul-Haq, arguably the worst military dictator in Pakistan’s history. A reluctant Nawaz Sharif was introduced as the Chief Minister of Punjab, who then rose to power as the leader of establishment-backed Islamic Democratic Alliance in the 1990s against the staunchly anti-establishment liberal visionary Benazir Bhutto.

As Prime Minister Sharif got comfortable in his Jihadi, Islamist social conservative cradle, he would soon attempt to declare himself the “Emir-ul-Momineen.” Who would have thought the one who almost became the Emir-ul-Momineen cannot even qualify as a Sadik and Amin now.

However, he probably never one at heart himself. The trader and entrepreneur in him was always more loyal to productivity and money than religious mirages and made him lean toward peace with India. The secular leader in him switched the national weekly holiday to Sunday from Friday amid protests of his Islamist allies. And perhaps went further to confront the military on counter-productive measures such as the 1998 nuclear tests and certainly the disastrous Kargil War.

Of course, Sharif crossed a lot of limits and does so habitually but you don’t have to do much to fall out of favor with the bureaucratic establishment. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself made the mistake of trusting them the third time around while living dangerously throughout his term, surviving rioting protests from PTI and PAT. Of course, you cannot say that he does not realize who his enemy is but you know there is only so much you can do to save yourself or please them.

While the people do not have the luxury to do much about them either, they also consistently make the mistake of taking their ruling bureaucratic tyrants as their saviors. They also consistently make the mistake of rejoicing over their assault on their right to vote. Many of them cannot wait to completely give up all their rights to their bureaucratic overlord whose meritocracy could not have been a fitter fit for the ignorant Pakistani masses who can’t think for themselves.

Nawaz Sharif may as well be history. But the people of Pakistan need to wonder if they can afford any more lapses in their democratic process. They need to wonder if they are willing to relinquish any more of their rights to the security state.

They need to wonder how the bureaucratic machine has not even bothered to promise to deliver free education as in the 18th amendment. They need to wonder how the bureaucratic machine has looked the other way when it comes to a national health insurance program while paying their bills out of public money. They need to wonder how the bureaucratic machine has systematically dismantled the honor of their own voice.

They need to do some serious soul searching.

Because the only ones that the bureaucratic machine cares for are themselves.

And that is the biggest lesson.

 

A version of this post was published in the Dunya blogs.