A marriage announcement most foul

When a 50-year-old man scores a teen bride, it is considered a matter of great pride instead of concern.
Published February 13, 2022

If there is one thing Pakistanis rejoice most, it is weddings. People here get married at all times of the year — even in peak pandemic lockdowns, marry they must. Aamir Liaquat is one such much married man, a Pakistani parliamentarian, who recently announced his third marriage.

This, however, was not just any announcement — it represented the worst of Pakistani misogyny.

His exact words were:

“Last night tie a knot with, Syeda Dania Shah, 18, she is belong to an honourable Najeeb ut Tarfain “Sadaat” Family of Lodhran, South Punjab, saraiki lovely, charming, simple and darling. I would like to request all of my well wishers, please pray for us, I have just passed the dark tunnel, it was a wrong turn.”

On the heels of the announcement came the unabashed gloating. That he married a teenager who happens to be not just a “Syedzadi”, but also beautiful, charming and simple — the absolute paragon of virtues by Pakistani standards. It ended up with him throwing shade at his previous wife, who also happened to be half his age, labelling her a “dark tunnel.”

Liaquat seemed to revel in disclosing his wife's age, which is barely legal.

The fact of the matter is that Liaquat is an elected official, drawing salary and power from his voters and taxpayers. He is entrusted to develop legislation for the benefit of the people of Pakistan. The fact that he chose a minor and waited for her to turn 18 to get married tells us a lot about his character.

Age is but a number

A young beautiful bride is a source of envy in Pakistan for anyone. When a 50-year-old man scores a teen bride, it is considered a matter of great pride instead of concern.

This normalisation of very young brides with a huge age difference is not new in Pakistan (he is 31 years her senior and both his children are older than her), but a parliamentarian relishing it and the prime minister — whose first wife was also half his age at the time of their marriage — endorsing it is a new low and declares open season on all female children and barely legal girls.

Matters of consent

Quite a few Pakistanis consider this marriage perfectly acceptable. The girl is of age and appears to have consented to the marriage. But one must address the severe power imbalance of this relationship and must question that consent.

Liaquat vastly outranks his teen bride in every aspect. He is older, more educated, richer, enjoys power and has access to yet more power. He is famous, more sexually experienced, more emotionally mature, and more mentally developed than the teenager he has married.

Anyone who thinks it was genuine consent should consider the nuances to such a relationship. With such a marked difference in status, comes coercion and manufactured consent. Add celebrity factor to that and not just the teenager, but probably her parents were also starstruck and agreed to anything and everything.

In addition to boasting about her age, Liaquat also took pride in finding himself a third "Syed" wife. As if one's lineage is what really matters and being a decent human being is simply not good enough. The young bride must, therefore, be packaged for the masses as the 'Syedzadi' urban wife of the parliamentarian.

This rebranding of young wives picked up for richer husbands is not uncommon. Sometimes, they even have to let go of their language and family in order to present a more polished urbane persona. This is horrific for everyone but more so for a parliamentarian who is expected to uphold higher standards.

Digging for gold?

In the wake of this wedding announcement and some other cringe-inducing videos that followed, another aspect that came forward is that quite a few people called the teen bride a gold digger. This is uncalled for and shifts the blame to the victim.

First of all, society teaches us that men who are good providers are most desired. How often are women told to not hold out for a young or handsome man. “Mard ki shakal naheen, kamaee dekhi jaati hai [Don't go for looks, go for the man's income]” is the most common phrase used by family members to convince young pretty girls to marry unseemly and ungainly men. If this is the gold standard, then why are women judged when they choose someone who can provide for them?

Secondly, being a gold digger shows agency and I am for that agency if a woman indeed chooses to pursue someone with that intent. However, in this and many other such cases, it is older men who approach very young girls with predatory intent and groom them into marriage, often facilitated by society and families. When they are coerced or forced into marriages, how can they be gold diggers? They are in fact, victims of their circumstance.

Thirdly, if Liaquat is such a victim of gold digging, how come his second wife had to seek khulla [divorce] through court where she had to waive her haq meher [jointure] as well.

I see a lot of men complaining about gold diggers but we have yet to see a huge divorce settlement where the wife got away with half of a man’s fortune. In most cases, wives had to leave marriages empty handed and seek khulla where husbands don't even have to pay the haq meher decided upon in the nikkah nama. If there are any gold diggers in Pakistani society, it is the men who demand dowry and then punish their wives if their families fail to deliver.

Liaquat and Dania got married on January 5 and ever since, the former has been posting his wife’s photos and videos on his Instagram with captions like “coming soon.”

This objectification of a human being, like she is a product awaiting its launch date, is only possible when there is great disparity between the spouses in terms of age, wealth, and power.

Liaquat’s Instagram post represents the worst of Pakistani patriarchy — exultation in securing a teen bride, using her nobility to enhance his own status, bad mouthing and pitting the current wife against the ex-wife and the declaration of his own virility.