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.

Finally Coming After Your Social Media

Source: Dawn

Well, recruiting an army of trolls just wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough because it didn’t work. It wasn’t enough because dissident journalists and bloggers such as Gul Bukhari and Ahmed Waqas Goraya were simply not shutting up.

After a humiliating exit of DG ISPR General Asif Ghafoor from his position, and rightly so because perhaps such erratic tweeting didn’t suit a DG ISPR, it seemed for a while that the troll army had retreated for a moment. This occurred after hundreds of fake accounts run by nationalist trolls were deleted by twitter. However, the new DG ISPR Babar Iftikhar does not sound like much of a fan of a free media either, as has been the case with the Bajwa-Imran regime.

Ever since the Bajwa-Imran regime has established itself in its full glory since the elections in July 2019, they have been hell-bent to curb media freedom. There has been a crackdown on bloggers and political dissidents and several

While people were wondering if it was about time that the government thought about pulling the cord on the social media, the government finally delivered a kind of low that has no parallel in history. The draconian Cybercrime Act under the PML-N had set the stage for this government overreach, which ironically resulted in the detention of the members of Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s own social media team following the Dawn Leaks controversy. On top of that, the PTI government has proposed the Citizens Protection Against Online Harm Rules 2020, which the cabinet has already passed and which will not be up for voting in the parliament. Unfortunately, no opposition party is expected to deliver a reasonable response to this, let alone oppose this measure heavily criticized by many commentators. Obviously, these directives are coming from the military establishment.

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Not just that, the federal authorities in Pakistan went a step ahead by issuing journalist Gul Bukhari a notice on terrorism charges. They accused her of using incendiary language against the security institutions in Pakistan.

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It is probably the biggest joke considering how Ehsanullah Ehsan, the controversial spokesperson of the Taliban has been kept as almost a state guest by Pakistan authorities. What was worse Ehsansullah Ehsan had claimed to escape the custody of the military and was later found to be in Turkey. The Interior Minister Ijaz Shah later acknowledged that he is missing as well, sparking fury among APS parents.

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Supposedly liberal ministers in the PTI cabinet such as Fawad Chaudhary made an excuse for the policy, citing taxation on social networks. Diverting attention by insisting that the proposed draconian measures by the government are for economic reasons cannot fool either the skeptical dissenters and the suspecting foreign commentators who are well aware of the nefarious intentions of the state. It also does not require an expert to conclude that these directives are coming not from the PTI but a higher and deeper state authority. What is disappointing though is the silence of PTI, a party that rose to power thanks to the social media, and the shamelessness with which it is defending the unprecedented curbs on the media and freedom of speech.

If Pakistan indeed suspends social media citing a lack of control over content critical to it, then it must face repercussions from the international community. The greatest responsibility will be on the United States to see beyond its strategic relationship with the country and impose sanctions on the country. The European Union and Great Britain must also take similar action to press Pakistan over possibly denying its citizens the fundamental access to the internet. There could not have been a worse state of media and citizen freedom in Pakistan.