Hawking Women’s Rights

November 5, 2012 § 2 Comments

Considering the amount of uninformed commentary that has been proliferating on Pakistan, readers might want to check out Tanqeed, an important new initiative started by a group of progressive Pakistani academics, writers and journalists. The trigger was a typically obtuse ‘debate’ on New York Times about the recent assassination attempt on a school-girl in Swat. In response Tanqeed (which means ‘criticism’) asked 6 Pakistani writers to present a less ideologically skewed take on the same event (and its broader context). You can find the result here. The following is my contribution:

Ten year old Nadia, whose family was incinerated in a drone strike.

For advocacy to be successful, it has to come from a place of empathy rather than superiority. Many of the most vocal advocates of women’s rights in Pakistan today are also known for their sanguine views on the “war on terror.” It is, therefore, doubtful that their new self-image as the deliverers of women from patriarchal tyranny will gain much purchase among the sufferers.

Women have doubtless borne the brunt of the dislocation and insecurity occasioned by the “war on terror.” But, to treat women’s rights in isolation from the general malaise merely serves to put the concern under a pall of suspicion. Women’s rights have been long used as a pretext for imperial aggression. Far from bringing relief, their invocation by the apologists for war merely helps obscurantist criminals, like the TTP, elevate misogyny into an anti-imperial expression.

The situation in Pakistan’s troubled northwest is no doubt ugly. From the indiscriminate violence of the Taliban, the gratuitous butchery of sectarian criminals, the bombing of girls’schools, the targeting of children, to the threats against the media, it is a predicament that is begging for a visionary political solution.

The Pakistani government, it seems however, will not provide that. Under pressure from foreign allies and cheered on by home-grown pugilists, the government has repeatedly opted for half-hearted military solutions which, given its limited resources and ill-defined goals, inevitably descend into collective punishment and extra-judicial killing. The confused and often indiscriminate nature of these operations has swelled the ranks of the very enemy the state is out to destroy. If war for Clausewitz was politics by other means; in Pakistan, it has become a substitute for politics.

Things were not always thus, and, unless Pakistan stays on its current ruinous path, they will not always remain this way. Militancy is not an ontological condition. Like anger, it is a disposition that can impose itself or dissipate in response to circumstances. If a certain condition is known to engender militancy, then trying to kill militants while keeping the aggravating conditions unchanged guarantees a perpetual bloodbath. It would be far more fruitful to contain and de-fang militants by isolating the criminals and robbing them of the reservoirs of sympathy that sustain them. Only political success can return violence to proportions manageable enough for law and order.

Admittedly, many of the circumstances are beyond Pakistan’s capacity to change. Much of it depends on U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the rest on Pakistan’s ability to steer its own course.

You can read the rest here.

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