The Witch-Hunt of Ayesha Gulalai: A Reply to Aimen Hayat Khan

The Express Tribune Blogs published an article written by Aimen Hayat Khan on August 4th 2017. The headline read: “Dear Ayesha Gulalai, instead of honouring our roots and culture, you have disgraced every single Pakhtun woman of Pakistan.”

Firstly, it is noteworthy that you, Aimen Hayat Khan, felt the need to defend yourself in your opening statement, arguing that you are ‘neither a political worker, supporter of any political party or fan of Imran Khan. Following this statement, you tell the reader why you are entitled to write such an article –  recounting how you, as a Pashtun, were guided by your parents as a young girl to stand up for your rights and speak up against any kind of harassment and most importantly, to uphold your own respect.

Ironically, the sanctimonious Hayat Khan follows these statements with a litany of accusations and shaming tactics, curiously charged with the putrid stench of misogyny. She goes on to share her views regarding Gulalai’s statements to the media which she argues ‘demeaned pakhtun society – particularly “our” women.’ Firstly, in using the word “our” (women), Hayat Khan immediately categorises Pukhtun women as a distinct homogeneous entity, that it is presupposed they act and behave according to a certain set of rules and values. Could this then be considered as “othering” – a term devised by Edward Said in his seminal work on Orientalist writers? In presenting Pakhtun women as a distinct ‘other,’ is she saying that Gulalai is therefore expected to act according to a prescribed set of Pashtun values which are distinct from accepted national values of Pakistan?

She further states that Gulalai should clarify the confusion whether on the one hand ‘Imran is a womaniser’, or on the other hand the CM of KP (Pervez Khattak) is dishonest and corrupt. So, where exactly is the confusion? The statements are not contradictory but merely concern two separate issues – matters, which as a PTI (former) Party Member, Gulalai had every right to bring to light. However, Hayat Khan failed to elaborate or argue as to why in her opinion or in what way, these statements ‘demean Pakhtun society and women’? In fact by questioning Gulalai’s statements, she has actually contradicted herself, since she herself proudly claims to have been brought up in an environment where women should speak up and stand against repression and intimidation in all forms.

By: Angelina Merisi, Angelina Merisi has a BA degree in History of Art (focus on Italian Art 1600 – 1700), she has an MA Honours Degree in The Academic Study of Religions. She won a PhD Scholarship for her research on ‘Masculinities and Honour Concepts in Pashtun Societies.” She is currently on sabbatical, but continues to research and write about Pashtun culture and society.

In her self-righteous tone, Hayat Khan goes on to state if she were in Gulalai’s position, she would have resigned in 2013 having received the first (alleged) inappropriate text message from Imran Khan. So where in the constitution is it written that there is a time limit regarding divulging information? More importantly, does Hayat Khan consider that it is an easy task for women to come forward, report or even discuss  cases of harassment or inappropriate behaviour on the part of men towards women? If she had bothered to carry out the least amount of research on this subject, she would have discovered that women from all over the globe feel intimidated in such circumstances and in the majority of cases, are terrified to come forward with such information. Furthermore, Pakistan’s human rights record leaves a lot to be desired and as for the empowerment of women, women’s rights and equality, Pakistan would certainly not lead or be celebrated as an exemplary model. Hayat Khan should take into consideration that by encouraging this witch-hunt of Gulalai, she will merely add fuel to the fire in making it more difficult for women to come forward to report such cases in the future – a point which she herself, as a woman, should take into account!

Climbing up onto higher moral ground, Hayat Khan takes another stab, grabbing the opportunity to identify the Pakhtun value of ‘ghairat’ (honour) to further her argument. Here, she asks how did Gulalai’s father allow her to remain in PTI and why had he not ‘forced’ her to resign, after these claims.  She moreover attempts to shame the family by stating: “it’s appalling that he, as a Pakhtun father allowed you to stay.” This stereotyping of Pashtun people, supposedly by a Pashtun woman,(khan) is difficult to fathom. Hayat Khan has clearly set out to publicly humiliate not only Gulalai, but has also dragged her father into the equation. It’s difficult to understand, that a woman who declares herself as a Pashtun woman of honour, should castigate Gulalai while concurrently deeming it suitable to publish an article in a national newspaper, questioning the private matters and discussions of a Pashtun family, in order to fuel a game of dirty politics. In fact, nobody knows what Gulalai’s family have gone through or discussed as a result of  this matter – which brings me to another point. In an attempt to further damage Gulalai’s reputation and drag her entire family into the cesspool, she mentions Gulalai’s well-known sister, the professional squash player, Maria Toorpakai Wazir, knowing the extent of pride that Pakistani people hold for the talented Maria. Hayat Khan ends her rant stating: ‘instead of honouring your roots, tradition, culture – you have embarrassed and disgraced every single Pakhtun woman of Pakistan, including your own talented sister.’

I’m sorry to inform you Ms. Khan, but you have disgraced yourself. You have attempted to shame Gulalai and her entire family, even used her sister’s fame to fuel contempt. You have used Pashtun cultural norms to your advantage as a tool to defame Ayesha Gulalai. You have added to the already present sense of danger and fear in women’s minds who may now never come forward with information regarding harassment and abuse. As the jury is still out on this case, it would have been better to show some patience and restraint while evidence is being gathered.

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