Vision 2025: A holistic view of where we are and where we need to be

For any project to be successful, there needs to be a comprehensive, well thought-out plan to get to the goal. The project in this case is a progressive, responsible, and stable 100-year-old Pakistan in 2047 and the Ministry of Planning, Development, and Reform’s Vision 2025 is the plan to create that country.

#Vision2025 is an attempt to break free from the cycle of economic despair that has hindered Pakistan’s growth since gaining independence in 1947. While recessions are part of the economic cycle of all economies in the world, the stronger ones are not only able to recover but also learn lessons along the way that strengthen them against the adverse effects of future recessions. This resilience – the ability to bounce back – is what Vision 2025 seeks to build into the Pakistani economic structure.

To this end, one of the crucial strengths of Vision 2025 is that it connects national security to not just the militant threat inside the country but also to seven other social and economic pillars that require equal attention and urgency to secure the nation’s future. It is these pillars that will create a Pakistani economy that is capable of recovering from economic, social, and political setbacks, the kind of which have slowly chipped away at our high-potential economy and left it weak and struggling.

The first pillar is to develop human and social capital, a top priority given Pakistan’s steadily-growing population, and within that the large number of people under the age of 25 who need not just employment opportunities but also educational training to excel at those jobs and increase productivity. This is an important point that Vision 2025 seeks to address by laying down specific goals for investment in primary and higher education, and public health.

The second pillar seeks to ensure that growth is not just sustained but also inclusive. Too often in economic success stories, we see that benefits of rapid economic growth end up being concentrated in the hands of the few rather than accrue to those at the margins who are most in need. Economic reform policies also historically tend to focus on groups that are easier to lift out of poverty. Thus, Vision 2025 places a special emphasis on vulnerable, needy groups that are harder to reach, such as women or members of religious minorities.

Keeping in step with the global trend of renewed focus on cities as engines of sustained economic growth, Vision 2025 seeks to transform Pakistan’s urban areas into “smart cities” that are adaptive and responsive to the needs of their citizens. Improved land use (i.e. vertical expansion), city governance, and zoning laws are just some of the thorny aspects of successful urban revitalization that Vision 2025 seeks to tackle. The seventh pillar seeks to connect Pakistan to the region through superior transportation infrastructure, from roads to ports. This will not only open up new markets, but also bring in more talent into Pakistan, making its cities hubs of cultural, political, and economic diversity, which requires good quality and affordable urban services such as housing and sanitation.

The third pillar leverages Pakistani pride in the seamless democratic transition the country made last year. It attempts to lay down a roadmap for modernization of Pakistan’s cumbersome bureaucracy and the public sector, through a new collaborative approach towards governance necessitated by increased provincial autonomy under the 18th Amendment. It seeks to shift focus towards an “open” form of governance, where instead of stepping in as provider of goods and services, the government concentrates on better regulation of private sector work.

This is directly connected to the fifth and sixth pillars, which seek to provide a conducive atmosphere for the private sector and developing an export base of value-added Pakistani goods. Vision 2025 seeks to support entrepreneurship-led growth, which can particularly help in the production of value-added goods, as innovation born from the entrepreneurial spirit can lead the Pakistani economy towards high-quality production techniques as well as innovative products.

The fourth pillar focuses on natural resources and Climate Change, and links the Pakistani economy’s competitiveness to them in terms of energy production, water supply and food security. Vision 2025 seeks to build on the progress already made on energy production, while promoting the use of a diversified mix of energy sources. It takes into account that we are fast moving towards the dangerous trend of water scarcity, and that food insecurity and malnutrition are causes for concern in terms of Pakistan’s economic progress.

Comprehensiveness aside, whether or not the plans laid out in Vision 2025 are implemented in their entirety, the document would have set Pakistan on an irreversible course towards reaching the end goal of a modern state. It would shift focus towards delivering economic and social benefits for all its people and also prove that brokering a consensus between provinces and stakeholders is not only possible but also beneficial for everyone.

This blog originally appeared here as part of a series of blogs about the Vision 2025 document written by summer interns at the Pakistan Planning Commission’s Young Development Fellows program.


The humanity competition: Pakistani first, Muslim later

If you were to follow just the news coming out of Pakistan about the outrage over Israel’s attack on Gaza, you would mistake us for the most humane people on earth. Yes, it would be a mistake as this very alarming story clearly demonstrates.

In Sindh, Pakistanis belonging to leftist, “progressive” parties held a protest against the influx of people from North Waziristan who have been displaced by the military operation Zarb-e-Azb in the area. Their complaint? The IDPs might, God forbid, settle in Sindh to provide a better lives for their families and choose not to return to North Waziristan even after the operation has ended.

Wah, what humanity. And we decry Israeli aggression in occupied Palestine territory day and night. Where is the talk of the “Muslim Ummah” mirage? Where are the analogies of the arbitrary Muslim Ummah being like a body, where if one part is in pain the entire body is in pain? Where are the self-righteous human rights crusaders now? Has the CAPS lock key on their computer keyboard finally died under the pressure of their vicious fingers typing out their outrage over the inhuman Israelis?

This is not to say that what Israel is doing is justified in any which way. It is a human rights violation of the highest order and the West – and other powerful states – should be ashamed of their silence. It is complicity in the genocide of a nation, its women and children, and for the most immoral reason of all – economic strength.

But what about our own people? Aren’t they caught in a conflict not of their own making? Are there no women and children affected? What moral reason do we have to protest against the inhuman treatment of people in a country thousands of miles away from us when we cannot be bothered about the well-being or guarantee our unequivocal support for those displaced within our own motherland? The Palestinians are dying for their motherland, yes. The IDPs – our very own people – are suffering for theirs (and ours) too. Why are the Palestinians more worthy of our support and emotion than the North Waziristanis?

If there is anything that Pakistanis’ loud pro-Palestine/anti-Israel protests show, it is our hypocrisy. I have heard the word “proportionality” being thrown around when criticizing Western leaders’ comments on “Israel has a right to defend itself”. Let’s apply that concept right here. Just look at the proportionality of the vigor with which we see support for Palestine and that with which we see support for Pakistanis.

It is time for us to put our house in order before extending our support to other suffering populations in the world. We are not a powerful enough country, we can barely provide for our own people. And that perverse resource competition, which is forcing the struggling Sindh province to complain about the influx of a huge number of underserved people, is killing our humanity as a nation little by little. These “anti-IDP” protests are just a glaring example of that.

More headlines on the issue that should break your heart:

[In Urdu]

Can denser cities prevent rape?

Recently, City Lab (formerly Atlantic Cities) published an article with a very interesting hypothesis: how better land use in India’s large cities can help tackle that country’s rape problem, which is fast taking the proportions of an epidemic. The author, Neil Padukone, argued that Indian cities, particularly Delhi, were designed according to the single-use planning pattern which lends itself to give birth to sprawling cities with large swaths of unpopulated land. These swaths, he feels, make Indian cities so unsafe because they are isolated areas where all kinds of crimes can be committed with some degree of certainty of impunity.

Single-use land design means that a city’s districts are drawn along lines of use, so that a residential area is completely separate from a shopping area. This pattern appeared to dominate land use in large western cities after World War II. However, in the 1990s, the US began to warm up to the idea of mixed-use land planning. Residential areas were no longer just that and began to include options for shopping, eating etc. – basically everything that you needed was walking distance or a relatively short commute away.

Mixed-use design, Padukone argues, would be an effective solution to secure the streets of these sprawling Indian cities. He concludes that with mixed use, and thus constant hustle-bustle, there will always be a set of eyes on the street which would ensure better security.

While that idea holds some merit (mostly for original thought), claiming that better land use in cities can improve safety for women, and residents in general, is a bit of a stretch. Even Padukone’s own argument that more pairs of eyes would mean more security seems like an unlikely conclusion, and certainly not a good solution.

As a South Asian woman myself, I can testify to the fact that there are way too many eyes on me everywhere I go as it is, and it does not secure me. If anything, I would be inclined to believe that that pair of eyes is more an enabler of sexual violence against women than a barrier to it. People stare at a woman who is out on the street as a pastime in countries like ours. More shockingly, violence doesn’t tend to move people into action because when a man is molesting a woman on the street, most people want to ignore it. All of a sudden, for societies as nosy as ours, the sanctity of a person’s right to privacy becomes paramount. On Twitter, when the #YesAllWomen hashtag was trending, an American woman tweeted that when she was in college, a police officer told women to yell “Fire!” in case they found themselves in a violent situation because that tends to mobilize people more than a woman screaming for help.

Secondly, looking at rape as something that happens only, or even mostly, in less crowded and isolated places is an incorrect assumption to make. The Delhi rape case of 2012 didn’t happen in an isolated place, it didn’t happen in a place at all – it happened in a moving bus that the victim sat on willingly because she believed it to be a public transit vehicle. Since then, I have come across at least three more stories, two in India and one in Pakistan, of a woman being raped in a car. That’s a spot that no style of urban planning could have secured. That’s a spot that nobody could have secured, except the people in the vehicle who were the root cause of the problem.

It is important to understand that rape is not a “crime” the way that car-snatching is. Rape is a social problem, one that is bred, supported, and perpetuated by constituents of a society. It is not done because some thuggish men wanted to make some extra cash by selling off a stolen phone, it is committed because in our patriarchal societies can and do justify violence against women.

Making cities more dense will do little, if anything at all, to help tackle rape in India or elsewhere. Only gross misunderstanding of the culture of rape, and that rape is only committed in the streets, would lead one to make such a conclusion. It happens in college campuses, office rooms, bathrooms, and even bedrooms between intimate partners. In fact, two-thirds of rape offenses are committed by someone that the victim knows, not someone who randomly assaults her on the street.

The only way to tackle rape is to fix the mysoginist attitudes towards women which stop people from speaking up and coming to a victim’s defence. If denser cities can bring that about, then by all means let’s go for it. If not, then single-use, mixed-use or no use at all is of little importance to the issue of women’s safety.

Bilawal’s tribute to Shaheed Salmaan Taseer is brave but incomplete

Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari definitely has more guts than most Pakistani leaders, even those twice his age and in power right now. It takes some courage for a 25-year-old to own a man who his own party all but forgot – Shaheed Salmaan Taseer.

On Taseer’s birthday, Bilawal paid a heartening tribute to him, calling him a martyr and a real hero of Pakistan. Bilawal called Taseer a voice for the “downtrodden masses” and against “inhumane actions”.

But that’s not what Taseer was, and calling him that is not much of a tribute. He was the last man standing who had the courage to be the voice of the religiously oppressed Pakistani non-Muslims. That group very specifically, not the general group of downtrodden Pakistanis who suffer inhumane actions.

Bilawal’s statement is incomplete because nowhere does he mention the cause for which Taseer died – the defining factor about that man who gave the ultimate sacrifice for his belief in religious liberty. Very specifically that cause, not poverty or violence.

What Bilawal said was brave, there are no two ways about it. Those things are important to be said, and even more important to be remembered. Bilawal appears to have made that a mission, and for that he cannot be appreciated enough. There is hardly any space for liberal views in Pakistan anymore, and for Bilawal to stand on that podium and make a clear, bold statement like that is an action I would love to see other Pakistani politicians take.

But not mentioning the infamous blasphemy laws that Taseer dared to stand against, a crime he was eventually eliminated for, makes Bilawal’s words somewhat hollow. The fact that the blasphemy laws continue to exist, and that Pakistan is still reeling from the shock of the murder of a lawyer for defending a blasphemy accused professor, makes that omission all the more jarring.

What makes Taseer a hero is his valiant defence of Pakistan against Islamization and religious illiberalism. His contribution keeps becoming more and more important with each passing day, each new murder of a member of the persecuted Ahmadi community, every new forced conversion of young Hindu women, and every new attack on lands of Pakistani Christians.

To not mention blasphemy and religious freedom in words when talking about the martyrdom of Salmaan Taseer is to neuter his stature in Pakistani history. The man who championed the rights of a group few dare to support deserves more. After all, it was his refusal for neutrality that made Taseer the hero that he is. Bilawal would be well-advised to remember that. You, sir, are the sole loud voice in this deafening silence.

Dear Mubasher Lucman, thanks for putting me and my people at risk

And by my people, I mean Shias and journalists, Pakistanis whose lives appear of little consequence to you.

Who are you kidding? Your beef with Geo TV has nothing to do with your “religious sentiments”, unless you consider ratings your religion. You are not interested in defending people’s religious faith. You are not going to be satisfied with the TV channel apologizing for what you alleged is “blasphemy”. You will only be satisfied, or at least I hope you will be, when the TV channel has paid a price for it in terms of losing lives business. But in the process, you have put at risk hundreds of lives of people who are doing nothing but earning honest livings as journalists.

Actually, why am I even expecting you to bother about the journalist community? It’s not like you’re a journalist. What would a self-styled anchor like you who has barely ever set a foot in a newsroom know about the daily challenges that real journalists feel? People who don’t make money by using shoddy YouTube videos as sources for their reporting and inciting hatred against others?

And why am I even expecting you to feel the fear that Shias in our country feel? Why should you, a Sunni male, feel any fear in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan that puts you, your needs, and your religious sensitivities above mine – a Shia woman? If you empathized with this persecuted minority in Pakistan, which is battling with a virtual genocide, you would have thought at least twice before “dog-whistling” your way into the group that justifies the murder of Shias in our country.

Have you ever heard of the word “responsibility”? That’s what you should accept for pushing your viewers towards more hatred through your obscurantist rant.

Here’s some piece of advice from a person who’s a member of the communities you have directly threatened: Next time your piety bothers you, think about the show you did with Malik Riaz and how much “support” he provided you in that incredibly “honest” piece of reportage that you did. And maybe, if you have a heart, think about the production team of your own TV show – the people whose lives you just put in danger look, sound, and work hard just like them.

I finally got culture shock

Yes, finally. After living in the great and mighty United States of America for eight months, I am shocked by a cultural phenomenon in this country. I now have an answer for everyone back home who refuses to believe that the US is more similar to Pakistan than we think.

In November 2008, the monumental victory of Barack Obama as President of the United States moved me to tears because I believed it to be the triumph of justice and the human spirit. I heard his victory speech on YouTube, and thought, “wow, these people [Americans] have finally moved past the racism that plagued them until just 40 years ago!”.

Six years later, I land in Chicago, home to Obama and one of the largest African-American populations in the US. I am excited to be here, especially the South Side of Chicago that is largely populated by Black Americans, and see the interaction between the two races. Color-based racism isn’t really a part of political or intellectual debate in Pakistan. Borrowing from the Americans, most of us are generally “brown” and believe we descended from the same race, the Aryans. However, Pakistanis are not completely color-blind and there is definitely an obsession with white skin, for instance calling the West Indian cricket team kaali andhi (“Black Thunder”). But as far as active racial discrimination against dark-skinned people is concerned, that’s not really a problem in Pakistan the way it was/is in the United States.

As a student at one of the most elite universities in the US where racism really is a thing of the past, I continued to feel about America’s racist history the same way I did back home. In the land of opportunity, what color you are has stopped mattering, to the extent that even soaring income inequality impacts poor White families and Black families the same way. I was of the view that this kind of backward thinking about race now existed only in the minds of desis who seemed to believe that every Black man was out to rob them and every Black woman was having a child out of wedlock.

Then I came across this astonishing article in The Atlantic, which claimed that racial segregation seems to have returned to high schools in the US. According to the article, Black students across southern US – states that were made to end black slavery through the American Civil War – now attend majority-black schools at levels not seen in four decades. This was a very uncomfortable thought for me. 

But what truly shocked me was when I started reading a fascinating book called “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. The book asserts that to this day, when even the rich and the powerful have to pay the price for being racist, the US Justice System continues to discriminate against Black Americans. It shows how the practice mass incarceration disproportionately impacts Black Americans, effectively relegating them to “second-class” citizens by denying them the very rights that were supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

It was only then that I realized how complicated and pervasive the issue of race continues to be in the US. Although Barack Obama’s victory has been a sign of change and hope for Black Americans in the US, it appears to have done little for them in terms of acceptance. Obama, with all his “White privileges”, is easy for the White elite to consider as one of their own. For them, it is easy to forget that Barack Obama is a Black man because he is extremely intelligent, delightfully articulate, and a lawyer educated at Harvard University.

My view on race in the United States has completely changed. There is still racial friction, and it’s not just in the hearts and minds of people from states that were historically brutal to Black Americans but also in the American systems, particularly justice system. It’s hidden and covert, but very effective nonetheless. The “triumph over race” isn’t yet complete.

Population control in the world’s sixth most populous nation: Targetting men may be the key

In Pakistan, decisions regarding families and their destinies are made by men. But when it comes to taking responsibility, such as the decision to use family planning methods, the entire burden suddenly shifts on to women.

That trend may be changing, as a recent World Bank-funded study has found that Pakistani men appear ready to shoulder some responsibility. Worried about economic factors, men from middle and lower-middle social classes are eager to learn about family planning methods and want to limit family size.

This qualitative study, carried out by a New York-based nonprofit Population Council, was conducted in four districts of Punjab. The province is a good choice to conduct such a study as Punjab houses approximately 56% of Pakistan’s 180 million people, making it the country’s largest province by population. Furthermore, Punjabi men’s perception of contraception and the concept of family planning has been largely negative. Statistically, this makes Punjab a good representative sample of the general population of Pakistani men, allowing policymakers to use these findings as the basis of national population control initiatives.

The authors, Iram Kamran, Mumraiz Khan, and Zeba Tasneem, conducted one-on-one interviews with men and focus groups with families, and arrive at some fascinating conclusions. Two of the study’s findings have particularly important policy implications.

Firstly, they find that over the past two decades, there has been an increase in desire among men to gain more knowledge about fertility and birth control methods. Usually the sole breadwinners in the family, men have come to recognize that raising large families is financially unsustainable and thus having less children could be economically advantageous.

Secondly, the study found that it is not a lack of will but supply-side problems that are impeding men’s use of contraceptives. Subjects said that they were unable to find avenues for more information on these matters and expressed demand for male health workers, along the lines of the lady health workers program for women.

This second finding is particularly important from a policy perspective. Population control initiatives in Pakistan have largely focused on women, primarily due to the social belief that all things related to children are a woman’s domain. However due to deeply-entrenched patriarchy in our culture, when it comes to making a decision,the word is the man’s. This means that although women are more aware of the concept of contraceptives and family planning than men, the success of Pakistan’s population control initiatives remains low because their focus is on a group of people who, although should be, are in reality not in the position to make the decisions. Research conducted in 2013 among women in Punjab found that one of the main obstacles to contraceptive use among women is the perception that such behavior would conflict with their husbands’ fertility preferences.

The findings of this study could mean a reverse of that trend, even though the change in men’s attitudes towards family planning and contraception has not happened for social reasons.

It may seem overly optimistic but involving men in the process could not only lead to higher success rates in the use of family planning methods, but also an attitudinal change in men that is much needed in Pakistani society. I make that claim by combining two findings of the study: men are wary of contraceptives because of perceived side effects of modern methods, and fewer men than women believe that religious leaders should be involved in the debate on contraception. This means that one of the reasons that Pakistani men are currently not using contraception is a lack of information, not will to do so. Further, they feel that contraception is a scientific or cultural topic that does not require religious intervention for legitimacy. This could make them a ripe target group for future population control initiatives that may see more success than those in the past.

This blog first appeared at The Word Theatre here

A former Tribune staffer’s first visit to the Karachi office, after 3 attacks

It had been barely a week since I started my two-month training at The Express Tribune – then not known as such. The newspaper hadn’t yet launched and we were a group of 30-something people, handpicked by the publisher and the editor, who would go on to become sub-editors for desks in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

The International Islamic University (IIU) in Islamabad had been attacked, and we were discussing the story with our editor Kamal Siddiqi. Many of us, particularly those from Islamabad, took the view that cosmetic steps such as security checkpoints sprinkled over roads helped make us safer. Kamal sahib disagreed, using the example of the lone metal detector being installed outside the Tribune office. These things can’t secure us, he said, unless we take real measures like putting terrorists and criminals behind bars.

His words stuck with me and, as time went by, I began to subscribe to that view. That is why, when the story about The Express Tribune deciding to censor itself was published in The Guardian, it came as a sad shock to me. It quoted my former editor, and an email he had sent to the staff, confirming that indeed such a decision had been taken following two gun attacks at the Tribune office and a shooting – and the deaths of 3 Express Group staffers – in Karachi. I recalled what Kamal sahib had said to us during training, so I knew how tough a decision it must have been for him and the entire editorial team at Tribune.

But it hadn’t prepared me for what I was about to see when I went back to visit friends at the Tribune office. I left Pakistan in August 2013, a few days after Tribune’s Karachi office was attacked for the first time, and was not present when the second and third attacks took place. So I was expecting some changes – a larger number of security guards, more vigilant use of metal detectors, etc. – but what I saw deeply depressed me. Having worked there for 3 years, some of the best of my life, it was like seeing my home transform into a fortified bunker.

For security reasons, I will not divulge any information about the inside layout of the office, but I will say that the openness that I most enjoyed at Tribune is no longer there. I remember when, during the earlier months when the newsroom was in total chaos, many of us would routinely barge into Kamal sahib’s office with complaints about the large, communal newsroom being too difficult a place to concentrate on work with dozens of young, loud, and active people in there. The editor refused to make it a quieter place, letting the energetic debates rage on about topics from what would be the lede on the front page to which restaurant would deliver us dinner at 1 AM.

When some of the launch team members started leaving Tribune, those of us who were left behind started to feel stressed out, worrying how we would continue to work without the friends we were so used to leaning on. Kamal sahib would then tell us that the nature of the news business is such that the newspaper will come out the next day regardless of how many people leave and how that changes the newsroom. After working there for so many years, I could see how true that was.

But the Tribune newsroom has redefined this Darwinian view of newsrooms – that newsroom has carried on, though it has changed so irreconcilably that the newspaper that comes out the next day has to tone itself down. The newsroom, and consequently the newspaper, has veered off far from the idealism that it had started off with. As a former Tribunian, one of the people who launched this fine product and helped make it the voice of the ignored, it is deeply, deeply saddening.

PTI’s online supporter base: hypocrisy, stupidity or blindness?

A few days ago, I wrote this blog for The Express Tribune Blogs section about Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Parvez Khattak’s utterly misogynistic comments to women lawmakers in that province. It was based on this story:

Not unexpectedly at all, the PTI online machinery was set into motion and people started commenting and tweeting to me that Tribune had misreported the story here. They sent me this link which was Business Recorder’s version of the same story, as triumphant proof of Tribune’s “yellow journalism”. One person claimed the address was to both men and women lawmakers, as if somehow that made it any less offensive and derogatory. (Turns out that claim was absolutely wrong too.)

Since some of them were polite, I responded to them saying that I will get to the bottom of whether Tribune had misreported the story. I got in touch with my former colleagues at the Tribune Peshawar desk and asked them provide me with a copy of the press release. They did, but it was in English.

I thought of putting that up online, but I realized that some of the trolls might say: “But it’s in English, Tribune journalists probably included the line themselves.” Believe me, it is not beyond PTI trolls to actually say, and believe, that.

So then, I set out to find the original press release in Urdu, to make sure that it had exactly the words that Tribune had used. And voila, I found it on Parvez Khattak’s official Facebook page here. To quote: “khawateen arkan-e-assembly ka taraqiati schemon aur gali koonchon ke marammat se koi sar-o-kar nahin aur na hi woh aise kaam karein jo mard arkan-e-assembly aur mehkmom ke faraiz main aata ho”.

I then went back to the PTI people on Twitter who I had promised to figure out why Tribune’s report was so different from the Business Recorder report. I shared the link with them and asked them to retweet it, accepting that they were wrong and that Tribune hadn’t misreported (and consequently, my blog was not erroneous). In response, I got: “first you admit you’re a liberal fascist” and “if I admit I’m wrong, will you go on a date with me?” What the hell happened to rational argument?

One idiot retweeted the tweet with the false allegation right after I had tweeted my response to it – clearly, selective retweeting. When I called him out on it, I got “I can make my own judgment, I don’t need your help.” Wah, what an attitude towards learning.

And it got me thinking. Are these people hypocrites or just plain stupid? Even in the face of clear evidence, these people just cannot accept that they are wrong, that the party they so vehemently support is misogynistic and that no newspaper is out to destroy the PTI.

I wish more authors would call them out on their bullshit, but then again maybe they shouldn’t. Like all stupid people, the PTI trolls drag you down to their level and then beat you because they are experts at being stupid. It’s just not worth it. I did my job as a journalist, going back to check if the story was in fact accurate, and I expected them to do their job as responsible, politically-inclined citizens. Obviously, only I played my part.

I realize it may seem like I have some sort of a vendetta against the PTI that I’m writing and tweeting about them so much, but as a voter I feel it is my job and my responsibility to at least try to bring them to task.

I used to tell people not to judge the party by its supporters, rather base opinions on its leaders and actual policy people. Clearly, Khattak has shown that PTI’s leaders are just as bad as the supporters.

Very disappointing. Shame on PTI.

Mr. CM, that wasn’t insulting enough

If one more person tells me that Pakistan has a better record on women’s political representation than the “developed nations” (meaning the US) because we have twice had a female head of state, I will use my very female and very strong hand to slap them across the face.

The Women in Politics Maps 2014 released by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women recently ranked Pakistan 72nd among 189 countries in terms of female representation in the parliament. We could have been ranked even lower – there is no woman on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s handpicked cabinet, for instance.

But one does not even need the IPU and UN Women to corroborate the claim of women’s pathetic representation in Pakistani politics. All we need to do is look north to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak just today told women lawmakers to refrain from suggesting development schemes and avoid doing tasks that fall under the duties of male members of parliament. Since when has development been gender-specific, Mr. CM?

Furthermore, in case his statement wasn’t patronizing and misogynistic enough, he also asked women legislators to concentrate on policies regarding women’s welfare. I mean, seriously, if women have such an itch to do something with the opportunity that’s been handed to them by their benevolent male counterparts in parliament, they can stay in their “zenankhana” and discuss their women problems. Why do they have to distract the alpha men from their noble jobs as saviors of the nation, including women?

So yes, what was it that you were saying about women’s representation in Pakistani politics?

The truth is that Pakistani women parliamentarians have almost always run second-fiddle to men, which is why the findings of the Women in Politics report and the KP CM’s comments shouldn’t come as a surprise at all. In the May 2013 election, for example, an overwhelming majority of election rallies were addressed strictly by men. In none of the mainstream political parties is a woman in charge of anything remotely important, and a large majority of the women who are now members of Pakistan’s National Assembly have made it there on the reserved seats for women, not the competitive ones that are open for contest among genders. The female head of government we talk of, Benazir Bhutto, was only able to become the prime minister because she was her father’s daughter. The reason she was nominated for prime ministership was because she was the chairperson of a national party that swept the elections, a party also inherited from her father.

Perhaps it is because of this perceived “privilege” that women parliamentarians are barely ever taken seriously, a rather laughable assumption to make if one were to spend a few minutes looking at how much Pakistani legislators have contributed. I would like to draw Mr. Khattak’s attention, and that of every man who holds the same view as him, to a report by non-profit legislative watchdog The Free and Fair Election Network, which found women parliamentarians in the outgoing National Assembly were a lot more attentive than their male counterparts. Despite being only 76 out of 350, women members asked 1,826 questions out of a total of 3,314 questions that were posed. For some clear perspective, read it like this: while women made up only 22% of the Lower House membership, they asked 55% of the total questions asked while the assembly was in session.

As the CM of the province, it is indeed Mr. Khattak’s prerogative to delegate legislative topics to his subordinates. However, I wonder if he was just as concerned about the overstepping of gender boundaries when a bunch of men decided to usurp a woman’s right to decide who represents her in the Provincial Assembly that he was himself the head of?

On May 13, 2013, I had travelled to Lahore just to be able to vote – and vote for PTI. I was then out in the street in Karachi, demanding re-election in NA-250. But the party just keeps disappointing me again and again. I know that many PTI supporters, some genuinely well-meaning and respectful men, will respond to my tweets about this statement and this blog with some sort of opaque explanations, but the message is clear: the one certain change that is coming is that women can talk, until they decide to challenge men on topics of consequence. Thank you PTI for that reminder.

Published in The Express Tribune Blogs here: