IN her outburst against Prime Minister Imran Khan this week, PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz may not have taken names but it was abundantly clear who she was hitting out at. Criticising his indecisiveness over notifying the new spymaster, Ms Nawaz blamed the delay and crisis on Mr Khan’s alleged reliance on magic and spells. It was a potshot at the prime minister’s wife, who by her own admission is a spiritual leader and is widely known to be Mr Khan’s spiritual adviser. While the crisis involving the spy chief is indeed a matter of serious concern, such strong criticism, direct or implied, is unsavoury and uncalled for. Attacks of a personal nature against women are unfortunately not new in our politics, and public figures and party representatives should know better than to indulge in them. From Benazir Bhutto to Ms Nawaz herself, female public figures face the worst kind of personal attacks. They are mocked for their looks, their selection of attire and their lifestyle choices — criticism we rarely see aimed at male politicians. Despite being the leader of a party and later the country’s first woman prime minister, the late Benazir Bhutto, too, was treated dismissively by rival politicians who shamefully made sexist remarks about her. Not too long ago, Federal Minister Shireen Mazari, too, faced unacceptable sexist remarks by political opponents in parliament. Ms Nawaz has also been subjected to despicable personal attacks by spokespersons and affiliates of the ruling party. Sadly, these attacks have worsened over time. They are getting to be more and more personal and repulsive, although our politicians and lawmakers are presumed to be mature individuals.

Ms Nawaz should do better politics. But there is also a lesson here for the ruling party to take the moral high ground and set the tone for serious politics. Unfortunately, given the frequency with which this government’s various spokespersons make immature and insulting remarks against their political opponents, this unpleasant trend shows no sign of dying out. Ministers and representatives of the ruling party have made unacceptable remarks about journalists and politicians, both men and women, but this behaviour is celebrated in the upper echelons of the party instead of being punished. There is a mistaken belief that putting opponents down in the most ridiculous of ways, somehow elevates the status of those making these uncalled-for remarks. This must stop, as it dirties our politics even more.

Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2021

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