Woman who won Pakistan its only Oscar!

Not that there was ever doubt about the misogynist nature of online trolling in Pakistan, but the attacks on Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy on her description of the Facebook request as ‘harassment,’ have marked a new high in online hate on women.

Some on social media posted photographs of her with other men - apparently suggesting these images made her a hypocrite for complaining about alleged harassment. Facebook pages were created encouraging people to send Obaid-Chinoy friend requests. A Facebook page posted a video called ‘Sharmeen triggered - how to trigger (harass) Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’, showing visuals of searching for her profile on Facebook and then adding her as a friend. On Twitter one user vowed to keep attacking Obaid and her sister until the suspended doctor is allowed to go back to work and declared that he was going to send friend requests to as many women as he wanted to. ‘Sharmeen is a tout and a dirty fly. She is only trying to seek fame through these tweets,’ chauvinistic comment said.
Some suggested she exemplified the phrase ‘wrong women in the wrong family’ and called her an elitist. She, however, subsequently clarified she was referring to the fact that ‘women in my family are strong’ and had not meant to ‘suggest a sense of privilege or power.’

Unsurprisingly, Facebook and YouTube got flooded with videos, particularly of Pakistani men, condescendingly explaining what exactly constitutes harassment to Obaid and through her, to Pakistani women. Others accused her of harassing the doctor by tweeting about the incident.
Reading the comments and tweets online, one could feel the exasperation with which Pakistani men were trying to explain how this friend request could possibly be a consequence of an ‘informal conversation’, a ‘misunderstanding’ or something initiated by the woman; how the man was not given a chance to even breathe and explain himself. I wonder how many men hearing the story got scared that their own immoral behaviour could be punishable. That their ‘innocent’ comments and actions towards women at work, in the streets, in public transport, in bazaars, etc could indeed be harassment. And in realising that, rushed to their phones and laptops to defend their ‘right’ to do all this without any consequences?

One of the widely circulated comment of a journalist on his Facebook page said that comparing a social media request to harassment was ‘ridiculous.’ He added ‘What’s next, asking for a pen is harassment… Looking at someone for three seconds will be harassment?’ In his post, he also said that the claim ‘is actually taking away from real victims of harassment.’
Sharmeen has been accused of being a ‘traitor’ to Pakistan in the past as well, in relation to her work that exposes violent and misogynistic cultural traditions prevalent in certain parts of Pakistani society. Her tweet storm renewed those criticisms and she was repeatedly accused of having harmed the country's international image. Her Oscar-winning short documentaries tackle the topics of acid attacks and honour killings of women.

One popular video with tens of thousands of views has a gentleman schooling Obaid on how not to abuse her influence as a celebrity while, of course, belittling her professional achievements: ‘making 2 to 4 documentaries is not a big deal at all … and it is the doctor who is being harassed.’
In a subsequent statement, Obaid-Chinoy revealed that the doctor in question had conducted a ‘very private examination’ of her sister before going online and ‘leaving comments on photographs & trying to add her as a Facebook friend.’ She clarified she regularly receives ‘unsolicited friendship requests from strangers’ but that she considered this episode a ‘serious breach of patient-doctor privilege.’

The Pakistan Medical and Dental Council referred the BBC to their ethical guidelines, which don't specifically mention social media but do state that a ‘professional position must never be used to pursue a relationship of an emotional or sexual nature with a patient, the patient's spouse, or a near relative of a patient.’

1850 hours
Friday 3 November 2017

Of misogony and Gulalai Yousafzai

When female politician, 31, accuse the cricket-star-turned-opposition-leader Imran Khan of sexual harassment, the venom unleashed against her was unmatchable vicious.

As if Khan’s public denouncement and demand of PKR 30 million in compensation for damage to his reputation and “mental torture” was not enough, the trolls took it on them to insult Gulalai in a way that reeked of misogyny.

Gulalai is Pakistan’s youngest parliamentarian and the first woman from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) to hold such office. Following Gulalai’s accusations, social media users did not spare even her younger sister, Maria Toorpakai Wazir, a famous squash player! She has also received death threats for playing in shorts and without a headscarf despite of her inspirational and courageous story of defying Taliban and representing Pakistan on international platform.  

On social media, some said Gulalai, should have acid thrown in her face, others that she should be whipped. She was called a liar and a carpetbagger. Mocking TV hosts asked, smirking, if she actually wanted to marry the man she accused. ‘You are shameless doing press conference, giving interviews, biggest liar, with a filthy tongue wicked and a shame to Pakhtuns,’ a comment on social media said.

The backlash against Gulalai is evidence of the abuse reserved for Pakistani women who venture to speak out publicly against harassment – abuse that is now increasingly taking place online. 75-80% of social media users in Pakistan are male, making women an online minority. In a study of 17 Pakistani universities, the Digital Rights Foundation found that 34% of surveyed women had experienced online abuse or harassment by men.

In a country where hundreds of women each year are murdered in so-called honour killings, such public debasement of women carries real danger. In 2014, the cricketer Halima Rafiq died, in what her family said was suicide, after accusing a top cricket official of sexual harassment.

While some people have questioned the timing of Gulalai’s claims. She came forward days after Khan succeeded in his campaign to oust Nawaz Sharif as prime minister on corruption charges in July, leading some to accuse Gulalai of taking money to defend Sharif – a charge that remains unproven. If it is unfair to believe an allegation, it is also unfair to doubt Ayesha Gulalai and call her names.

1130 hours
Sunday 24 September 2017


The Supreme Court on Friday disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from holding public office in a landmark decision on the Panama Papers case.

It is true that Sharif has been stripped of the prime ministership on quite narrow legal grounds. If the democratic project is to be sustained and strengthened, the rules of the system must be clear, fair and transparent.

Although, Sharif family's legal team's strategy  has been quite troubling in this case. They only focused in subsequent hearing, on discrediting the report, and raising questions about the impartiality and capability of the six men who had comprised the JIT, instead coming up with a clear or transparent explanation. Instead, 'Sans-Sharif' and #FontGate scandals further tarnished their defense.

Nevertheless, we were hoping that the Supreme Court would deliver a well-argued and well-reasoned judgement that would create a desirable and easily implementable legal precedent. Instead, the one that now holds sway in the application of disqualification criteria for elected officials is very vague. What is the scope of Article 62(1)(f) and has it been properly determined by the bench? What constitutes a misdeclaration in a candidate’s nomination forms that can trigger disqualification?

The Supreme Court was in a Catch-22 situation; it had lowered the threshold for ineligibility of elected members to such an extent. It seems following this judgement; one hundred per cent of this country’s elected representatives face at least some uncertainty about their legitimate qualifications to hold public office. Doesn’t that sound like a fiasco…for a democracy!

2005 hours
Sunday 30 July 2017

The ordeal of Kashmir

Farooq Dar was tied up on a spare tyre at the front of an armoured jeep and driven through villages of Srinagar, after a severe beating. Indian soldiers claimed he had been pelting stones at their patrol and the ordeal of him, tied on a tyre, would scare off others from doing the same.

On 22 May, the Indian army announced an award for the officer who tied Dar to the jeep for ‘sustained efforts in counter-insurgency operations.’ An Indian television even called the officer a hero for using Dar as a ‘human shield.’
Now in a recent surge of events, the Indian authorities imposed a curfew across most part of the valley and suspended mobile and telephone services ito suppress widespread protests after gunning down Hizbul Mujahideen commander Sabzar Ahmad Bhat – the successor of Burhan Wani – and his 16-year-old associate.

The recent unrest in Kashmir has been of a different kind from the insurgency of 1990s and 2000s. India has made the problem quite complex by refusing to differentiate between the new type of demonstrator and the usual guerrillas. It has responded to protests with extreme violence. Last year security forces dispersed wild crowds by firing shotguns at them, blinding or killing several people. Recently, they have abstained from using such weapons, but they have revived aggressive searches of a kind not seen since the height of the Kashmir insurgency, 15 years ago.

Those who throw stones at soldiers, often in response to aggression by the army, are routinely described as ‘militants’. Indian media report, with weak evidence, that Pakistan pays protesters 500 rupees per projectile hurled.

Since when calls for independence is synonymous to violence?

With more than 500,000 security personnel deployed across Kashmir it is highly likely that the current turmoil will now prevail, for quite some time. A lot is being lost, in the paradise on earth.

But mostly, emotionally, it seems, little remains to be saved!

0530 hours
Monday 29 May 2017

The Police 'Encounters'

Yesterday, the Counter Terrorism Department in Punjab claimed that in a terrorist encounter at 1:15, they killed 10-suspected Jamaatul Ahrar terrorists, including the handler of the bomber who carried out the suicide attack at Lahore’s Mall Road.

A firefight followed, in the dark? I’m sure our Counter Terrorism Department must have ‘night-vision goggles,’ or perhaps they are simply superb marksmen — especially in the dark.

At the end of the exchange, there were 10 dead and surprisingly no survivors, injured or uninjured, from the group that attacked the police.

The most unsettling fact about this ‘encounter’ is that there hasn’t been public presentation of evidence against any of the dead as yet. These unusually common incidents of police ‘encounters’, not only in Punjab, has resulted in multiple deaths of men ‘alleged’ to be terrorists.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) report 2016, Police in Pakistan may be illegally executing hundreds of people each year in fake ‘encounter killings’. It said it was concerned that many, ‘if not most’, of the 2,108 people reported by the media to have been killed in encounters in 2015 died in circumstances that were ‘faked and did not occur in situations in which lives were at risk.’

The technique has been widely used in recent years by police and paramilitary forces battling to bring order to Karachi.  It’s shameful how some in Pakistan, often support these killings, which they say are responsible for a dramatic improvement in Karachi’s law and order situation.

This ‘extrajudicial killing’ right after a terror incidents may be an attempt by Punjab authorities to neutralise the public criticism they are facing for their failure to counter terrorists attacks: they surely are not a solution to the real problem.

The real solutions involves the authorities to take effective measures before occurance of an incident - operations against terrorists and effective surveillance. With this mockery of rule of law we are getting nowhere as a society to combat terrorists elements, in the long run. We will miserably fail.

01:30 hours
Sunday 9 April 2017

Trump’s Muslim ban

Not everyone is perturbed by President Donald Trump's executive order to place travel restrictions on the citizens of selected Muslim countries.

Islamists and extremists that have long debated against the "evils" of democracy and the US - are likely having a "told you so" moment. However, there are politicians, such as Pakistan's Imran Khan, that are looking at the silver lining of this policy if Pakistan was added to the selected countries list.

It's true that in a single blow Trump has erected a wall – that of ideology, race and religion. The sides will have to be picked and many Muslims who are not extremists or terrorists will be stranded in the middle.

A potential outcome of Trump's policy is also a slight chance that the immigration restriction would allow some of the Muslim countries, their leaders and the people to take responsibility and control of their countries, instead of plundering it and finding an escape route.

This school of thought is exactly what has been reflected by Imran Khan. In his comments he argued that he would welcome a travel ban from Trump for Pakistan as a way for the country to fix its internal governance and security problems instead of relying on the US.

Perhaps this is Trump's end goal, to shake foreign policy and politics in Washington and do things differently to get different results given that for the longest time US interaction with the Muslim world has only produced corrupt leaders and instability in the region. This could potentially benefit the Trump government and perhaps the Pakistan and US in the long run by breaking the status quo in the region and forcing a bottom-up change.

2125 hours
Tuesday 7 February 2017

Freedom of speech that hurts other people's feelings

Five liberal activists, including poet Salman Maqsood had each gone missing separately since Jan. 4.

While the disappearance has raised many discussions on popular media and human rights activist on the state of freedom of speech in Pakistan and international community, it seems some human rights commentators here confuse freedom of speech as synonym of the right to offend.

Free speech is a crucial part of democracy; but this freedom necessitates respect and responsibility. Simply because we can say something doesn’t necessarily mean that we should.

We should consider more carefully what ‘freedom of speech’ actually means in context. Despite popular belief, free speech is not absolute, even in the United States, the UK and other developed countries that are considered global champions of Freedom of Expression. The US Supreme Court has made this clear through a number of cases. The government can regulate speech in certain instances, with exceptions for circumstances like ‘fighting words,’ or incitement to imminent violent action.

In a democracy with freedom of expression, one must tolerate scorn, mockery and ridicule. Religious and cultural pluralism are core values that democracies should aspire toward. But, pluralism, according to scholars like Harvard University’s Diana Eck, goes beyond tolerating diversity to actively seeking to engage difference through mutual dialogue. This kind of pluralism is impossible if we deliberately use free speech to provoke, demean or injure others – stereotyping a certain section of society, a set of religious values or an institution.

2300 hours
Friday 20 January 2017