Ayesha Gulalai, a young member of the National Assembly of Pakistan (equivalent to our Lok Sabha), has made headlines in her country in the last few days. She was a member of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and recently made allegations against Imran Khan and a few leading members of the party of sending her lewd text messages. These allegations, as expected, created a storm in Pakistan’s political circles.
Gulalai is suffering the backlash. The practice everywhere is sickeningly similar: Blame the woman, tarnish her image and call her character into question instead of responding to her charges. She has been subjected to grave verbal abuse and threats. Gulalai’s sister, Maria Toorpakai, Pakistan’s number one female squash player, has been abused for wearing shorts i.e. sports uniform.
The family belongs to a tribe from Waziristan and as such is ‘subject’ to local tribal rules and conventions. The jirga (local council) declared that they are not tribal and do not belong to Waziristan ‘because whatever Gulalai had done was against the norms of the tribal people’.
The sisters, as so many women across the world, have faced ‘retribution’ when they called out predatory male behaviour. PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry alleged that she took Pakistani Rs 50 million to hold a press conference against Imran Khan. Asma Jahangir, a leading human rights activist, said, “Disturbed by the way Ayesha Gulalai is being attacked. It has exposed the mentality of those accusing the complainant of sexual harassment.” Gulalai has also resigned from the National Assembly and PTI. She said, “If Imran Khan accepts that he has done it and seeks forgiveness from God, the nation and its women, I will forgive him.”
The women’s wing of PTI has asked Gulalai to apologise for her comments or a jirga would be sent to her home as per the custom of South Waziristan. A senior leader of the party asked jirga to demolish her house if she is proven guilty of wrongly accusing Imran. The jirga is an outdated system of delivering justice. It is the product of socio-economic-religious conditions and still commands influence in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. South and North Waziristan are part of FATA.
It is not easy for a woman to challenge a male member with a charismatic personality, especially in countries like Pakistan and India. It needs tremendous courage. It is also not easy to resign from the Parliament. But, Ayesha has shown courage.
According to her, the first inappropriate text message Imran sent was in 2013. Complaining after four years does not make allegations less serious. She said that she, along with her father and brother, went to Imran to raise the issue, which irked him. Nothing came out of the meeting. Gulalai said, “I felt embarrassed, hence I held back for four years before finally speaking up.” The allegation needs to be investigated.
The issue rocked the National Assembly, which decided to constitute a special committee to probe the allegations. It has been given a month to investigate. The meetings of the committee will be held in-camera. Gulalai had shown couple of lewd messages to a leading Pakistani journalist, Hamid Mir. In his social media message, Hamid Mir said, “Messages I saw lend credence to Ayesha Gulalai’s allegations, but a proper investigation is needed.” She said she will give proof of her allegations if summoned by a court of law or parliamentary committee.
Imran’s supporters think the allegations are to defame their party chief. Pakistan will have elections next year and Imran has challenged Nawaz Sharif and his party. Since the last NA elections in 2013, Imran Khan and his party is aggressively campaigning against Nawaz and PML (N). PTI celebrated the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s (SCP) order disqualifying Nawaz from Prime Ministership in a big way. Imran is the most vocal critic of Nawaz. Political observers feel the SCP ruling will help Imran in the next elections and Punjab will be a major battlefield. It is ruled by PML (N) and Nawaz’s younger brother Shahbaz Sharif is its CM. Now, Gulalai’s allegation has tarnished Imran’s image, but Imran Khan and controversies are not new.