Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar’s visit to Afghanistan was hailed as a power move for the parallels it presented — a woman leading talks with the Taliban, known for their skewered gender politics. Though the positive reaction seemed unanimous, the recent firing at the Chaman border has brought those muttering quietly to the frontline.
On Monday, JI member Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali made a cause-effect connection between Khar’s visit and the terrorist attack, saying sending her alone for the talks left a bad impression. He couldn’t get away with it though as he was quickly silenced by female politicians in the National Assembly, who took a stand for Khar and women in general.
Addressing the speaker, Chitrali brought up the issue and shared how he think talks with the Taliban should have been conducted. “In the last few days, our consulate in Afghanistan was attacked by terrorists, our borders are getting fired at by Afghanistan on a regular basis, yesterday six people were martyred as well. The situation in the Malakand division is also in front of you.
“My suggestion is that we send a delegation from here from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, headed by [JUI MNA] Maulana Asad Mahmood. Their culture should be observed, their people and government should be met with and persuaded. Ask them why are our areas getting fired at by Afghanistan, why is there disruption in peace and who are these people who want to spread hate between two brother nations?”
He made a request for a parliamentary committee to be sent to Afghanistan for this matter instead of Khar from our government which, according to him, “did not leave a good impression on Afghanistan”.
PPP’s Shazia Atta Marri had a very respectable but angry response ready to be fired. “An honourable member here passed a comment here about the minister of state for foreign affairs saying she should not have gone to Afghanistan and that her visit left a bad impression. I strictly condemn his speech and his comments.
“I don’t think this country is tolerant of talking about its women this way — neither Islam nor our society teaches us this. It’s just some narrow-minded people who want women to be trapped in the house, in a room, where not even their screams are audible. I strictly condemn not just such speech but also such narrow-mindedness,” she said.
Marri expressed pride where Khar is concerned and said this move was lauded around the world for sending a woman to “a place where women don’t get rights to let them know what the rights of women should be”.
Federal Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman backed up Marri, saying her argument had a lot of weight. “I have a request for Chitrali sahab — if we are to respect your way of thinking then you have to respect our points of view and thinking too. This is the beauty of politics and the way of operating in a democracy.”
She gave the example of Benazir Bhutto, the first female PM of Pakistan. “If Benazir Bhutto’s son, who is currently the minister of foreign affairs and excellent at fulfilling his duties, decides to send a delegation consisting entirely of women, he is entirely right in his position. This is a message from us to the world, that PPP and the government are on the same page. This government [prioritises] human rights and women’s rights, with the policy focusing on taking the women forward,” she said.
Requesting Chitrali to carefully weigh his words, she added that, “This has ended in all of the world — being a woman or a man is not how you identify someone but it’s their performance and merit that decide. I am proud to say our women are excelling internationally and will continue to do so, that very much includes Hina Rabbani Khar.”
PML-N’s Marriyum Aurangzeb, who also serves as the minister of information, said though she respects Chitrali and he has the right to his opinion like everyone else, the expression of it should not attack anyone. “I am Hina Rabbani Khar’s colleague too and I have seen her work — the respect she has in her career is not because she’s a woman but because of her expertise and commitment. I have seen this woman work day and night. The country’s history is filled with examples of how women have played their part in this country’s progression and independence.”
She added that men should encourage women because they represent 50 per cent of Pakistan’s population. “This is not a matter of male and female, it’s about competency,” she said. “That day I got emotional when I saw Hina Rabbani sit on the same table as the Taliban, the Afghan government for the talks. I think we should we be congratulating all the women in Pakistan,” she concluded.
Chitrali once again took to the podium and claimed that he had been misunderstood. “What I meant to say was that Hina Rabbani Khar did not become the minister of state yesterday — we have never objected. What I’m trying to say is that there is tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan, there is terrorism along the border to this day. They are both brother nations, they will stay brothers till the end of time.
“To create resolution between them, sending a person there, that too, a woman — I’m still going to say — this was not suitable. What should have happened is that the minister of state for foreign affairs should have taken Islamic scholars and representatives from tribal areas in a delegation. They would have had the talks with the Afghanistan government and as a result, there would have been peace. Instead she went there — fine, but what happened? Did anything happen? Did anyone listen to her? Terrorism is still rampant. What effect did she have? The effect that resulted in the martyrdom of six of our people at the Chaman border? The effect that more of our borders are under attack? These are the effects?”
The JI member was interrupted by the female politicians at this point and a shouting match commenced while the speaker tried to maintain peace in the chamber. One of the last things Chitrali said was, “We respect women but women need to stay in their limits as well.”
Khar addressed the “heart warming” support on Wednesday and thanked her colleagues for taking a stand for her.
What we want to know is, what has caused the JI member to share such delusional thoughts? Sending a well-educated and accomplished woman to engage in talks with Afghanistan is not going to solve anything but send over a pack of men and suddenly the Taliban will drop their guns and start dancing with their “brother nation” along the borders? In his mind, do women cause terrorist attacks and men solve wars?
We’re reminded of the time when Maulana Fazlur Rehman from the JUI-F claimed that women wearing jeans was causing earthquakes as well as when Maulana Tariq Jameel said that Covid-19 was unleashed onto humanity because of the wrongdoings of women. These notions are as laughable as the idea that a woman doing her job and going for peace talks is being held responsible for terrorist attacks by a group of violent misogynists.
Chitrali sahab, you say you were misunderstood but we think you have misunderstood yourself. You support women as long as they “stay in their limits” and do not do a man’s job. We think you need to stop drawing lines around women and start erasing the lines around your thinking — broaden it a little. The world is evolving and time and time again, we have seen women can excel at any field of their choosing. You push them down and they’ll spring back up and show you.
It’s truly a shame that while Khar was celebrated around the world for her visit, in her own country, some men did not have the capacity to comprehend how powerful and inspiring of a moment it was for women everywhere. But if one good thing came of this episode, it’s this — we saw women standing up for women.