Women define leadership

Published March 3, 2024
The writer is a former editor of Dawn
The writer is a former editor of Dawn

AGAINST the backdrop of dark clouds, there have also been hints of a silver lining and these have come in the form of patriarchal Pakistan’s incredible women excelling in all spheres such as activism-human rights and politics, providing outstanding examples of dedication to duty.

As the PPP was coming in for criticism for naming a brand new entrant to the party as chief minister of Balochistan, whose claim to fame is his total endorsement of the state’s security policy in the gravely wounded province, a Baloch daughter was doing herself and her people proud.

Yes, while the PPP was enabling the non-civilian partner in the current hybrid system to gain the upper hand in Balochistan and party leader Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari was said to be making his way to Quetta for the oath-taking of ‘my chief minister’ to join the movers and shakers of provincial politics, the tears of the rain-ravaged, waterlogged population of Gwadar were being wiped by a young woman called Mahrang Baloch.

She was wading through knee-deep water in the narrow lanes of Gwadar bastis to inquire after those who remain waterlogged even after three days of flash floods. Those at the helm were busy in their power games in Quetta and Islamabad-Rawalpindi.

Mahrang Baloch is a reminder why the state needs to engage with those holding an opinion different from it.

Despite the chokehold being applied on the social media platform and access to it frustratingly inconsistent, someone remarked on X that Mahrang Baloch is the opposition that the new Balochistan government will need to confront, and not that sitting across the aisle from it in the assembly hall.

As Ms Baloch demonstrated during her recent march to and sit-in in Islamabad, her support and legitimacy come from her moral charisma rather than anything else. She is a reminder why the state needs to engage with those holding an opinion different from it and attempt to win them over with deeds rather than trying to eliminate them under a hammerhead. A clear-headed young woman not shying away from saying what is right in a largely patriarchal and oppressive society and one who has the courage to march hundreds of kilometres from Turbat to the federal capital to be heard.

It is a tragedy for the state that it chose not to hear her and also used the office of caretaker prime minister not to apply a healing touch but to cast aspersions and question the legitimacy of her cause. She appeared taller than those who sought to diminish her.

The other woman of note is Maryam Nawaz Sharif. She has taken over as Punjab’s — in fact, the country’s — first woman chief minister. While there may be many question marks over the electoral win of her party, she was off to a flying start after her election in the Punjab Assembly.

Seeing the speeches of her two male counterparts in Sindh and KP after their election as provincial chief executives, it was clear that neither had done as much homework — one of them had done none at all — as she did for her maiden speech. I would have liked her speech to have been written and delivered with a tad more brevity but that is the only criticism.

Let’s see how much of her proposed agenda Ms Sharif is able to implement. Her party’s fate hinges on that. With her father’s counsel perpetually with her and the support of the federal government, with her uncle as prime minister, a foregone conclusion, she will have only herself to blame if she does not succeed.

There can be no denying the PTI is now challenging PML-N in its power base of Punjab just as the PML-N challenged PPP in the early 1990s onwards, more or less eliminating the latter from the province in the 2013 elections. So, all eyes will be on her. Her energy and determination will be her major assets.

While on Punjab, surely, one would be remiss in not mentioning the young police officer ASP Syeda Sheherbano Naqvi who saved a woman, surrounded by an angry mob, from certain harm, by her courage and steel nerves. Wish more officers would display such dedication to public service and commitment to doing their job. Kudos to her. But it must also be said that she is now left alone to do what she does best: her job. Who doesn’t know how desperate we are for feel-good factors and none better than heroic deeds to provide these.

Let’s not overdo it though. While there was so much positive to focus on women, there was an appalling incident in the KP Assembly which cannot be condemned enough. On its inaugural day, PML-N MPA Sobia Shahid walked into the assembly hall, waving a wristwatch at the members and PTI supporters alike.

This was provocative no doubt as she was using the Toshakhana case to mock PTI supporters. But what followed was what no man has ever faced in any assembly in recent times. She was bombarded with shoes, water bottles, cigarette packs from the galleries. This was not all. She was subjected to verbal abuse and given the vilest of sobriquets that I am too ashamed to repeat. This should be unacceptable but it isn’t as the chief minister, too, did not condemn the incident or apologise for it.

It can’t be stressed enough that the examples mentioned in the piece at the beginning are no more than tiny hints of a silver lining, given what our women have to face at the hands of so many of our men every day.

While we are lauding women and their resilience, it would be in order to mention Dr Yasmin Rashid, Aliya Hamza, Sanam Javed and others like them who remain incarcerated for their beliefs whether you agree with them or not. And this when those who have openly violated their oath of office and shrugged aside the Constitution are thriving in freedom.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2024

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