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Daily Times Editorials

Daily Times Editorials – 17th May 2016

The reality of sexual harassment

In an admirable show of solidarity, 17 current and former female ministers of France issued a joint statement on Sunday denouncing sexual harassment at the workplace. This statement was issued in the wake of a probe into multiple sexual harassment charges against former deputy parliamentary speaker, Denis Baupin, who categorically denied all allegations levelled against him and even instructed his lawyers to open defamation cases against two media outlets. To muddy matters even further, France’s Finance Minister Michel Spain has come forward and admitted acting “inappropriately” towards a female journalist, which shamefully involved improper physical contact. These unfortunate developments point to the unfortunate reality that sexism is so deeply ingrained in the minds of some people that even at the top echelons of power, females are not safe from sexual harassment. The fact that former and current female ministers of France have come forward and spoken against sexual harassment bears testimony to the pervasive forms of sexism that continue to prevail in the world.
The recent wave of xenophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe has manifested itself in various ways with one labelling Muslims as ‘sexual predators’. Moreover, a widely believed opinion in the developed world seems to be that traditional societies of developing world suffer from widespread patriarchy that results in oppression of women. While there may be a certain degree of truth to this admittedly blanket interpretation as in certain societies of the developing world the degree of oppression of women is indeed severe, there is no escaping the fact that sexism is a universal phenomenon. In addition to revealing the fact that sexism is not spatially confined, the events in France also show the ubiquitous nature of sexism as it is not even limited by class or office. And in such an environment, it is essential to break the silence on sexism and engage in a meaningful debate.
Contrary to public opinion, sexism is not often conspicuous involving deplorable acts of sexual abuse. Rather, it works in many subtle ways as it is perpetuated by underlying forces of patriarchy. These forces create an atmosphere in which outwardly bold qualities are associated with the male gender, while frailty and beauty are associated with women. This in turn denigrates the position of women as their supposed qualities are formed in relation to their difference to men. Moreover, as women are made to appear as weak beings who need the protection of men, the success of women in areas that are considered to be ‘boys clubs’ serves to threaten the illusory superiority of men over women. Hence, the objectification of women that conditions the mind at the societal level plays itself out at the workplace, often in the form of subtle remarks over the appearance of women that serve to shift emphasis away from their success, and consequently belittle their achievements.
It is true that institutions themselves have a gendered form as their internal logic is based on the supposed ‘success’ driven male qualities. Any person, regardless of their gender, has to take on the gendered role of their office as the imperatives of the office demand it. This phenomenon points to the fact that these gender qualities are socially constructed since both men and women are able to display these qualities when they are in office. Meanwhile, since there are greater number of men at top positions than women, the latter are made to feel uncomfortable by indulging in behaviour that perpetuates the gendered binaries. Hence, the underlying forces of patriarchy need to be addressed if sexual harassment is to be effectively dealt with. This can only be done by revealing the façade of the naturalisation of gendered qualities as only by believing in the equality of men and women can sexism be eliminated. It is about time socially constructed binaries be no longer allowed to masquerade as naturally created truths, and the resulting oppression against women be finally rectified.

The ‘irreconcilable’ Taliban

The fate of the Afghan peace process has been hanging in the balance as the Taliban are reluctant to hold direct peace talks with the Afghan government. Afghanistan has been passing through a critical time as there does not seem to be a foreseeable end to the ongoing violence. In a bid to bring peace to war-torn Afghanistan, top diplomats from Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United States are scheduled to meet in Islamabad on May 18 to discuss ways on how to start peace talks in Afghanistan. The Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) is going to meet for the first time since the Taliban have refused to take part in direct talks with the Afghan government. In the previous meeting held in February, the QCG had invited the insurgents to join the process, but it has not received positive response from the Taliban.
The upcoming meeting entails great importance as Afghanistan is now pushing for action against the Taliban as they are unwilling to come to the negotiation table, and mounted their annual Spring Offensive. In this scenario, hopes for peace in Afghanistan have diminished and no immediate solution is available. The Afghan government has become wary of non-cooperative attitude of the Taliban who are not ready to quit violence. This is the reason that Kabul has asked the QCG to pronounce the Taliban as “irreconcilable” because they have publicly rejected the talks. The Afghan government wants the QCG to opt for action against the Taliban. However, Pakistan still insists on political negotiations instead of prolonging the war that has already left catastrophic effects on the Afghan nation. Pakistan has been impressing upon the US and Afghan sides that the reconciliation process should be given a fair chance and more time.
However, the situation is getting grimmer day by day. Nobody knows what will be the outcome of this uncertainty. What should be the roadmap to peace? It is perceived that that the roadmap is precisely about the steps that the QCG member countries needed to take in their respective relevant domains — during peace talks if they begin, and if the Taliban refuse to join talks. All stakeholders need to adopt a united stance and make joint efforts to deal with the threat of the Taliban that surely will not remain limited to Afghanistan. Pakistan needs to use its influence to bring those Taliban to the negotiating table who are willing to lay their arms, while the US and China in cooperation with other countries need to launch military offensive against the irreconcilable Taliban. Those militants who are ready to quit violence must be engaged in talks while those who are not ready to lay down their arms should be eliminated. Peace is in the interests of all stakeholder countries, the region and the world.

Imran Khan’s offshore company

In a surprising turn of events, Imran Khan has admitted to owning a London flat through an offshore company. After the revelation of Khan’s name, the PTI had denied the claim, but the following day, the chairman of the party himself admitted to owning the flat through offshore companies. Khan said that he formed an offshore company on the advice of his accountant to buy the London flat in 1983 to evade British taxes during his cricket-playing days. Moreover, the PTI spokesperson Naeem-ul-Haq, who was Imran Khan’s banking adviser at that time, also admitted to forming a legal offshore company through Khan’s earnings from cricket money to evade taxes. He also claimed that when Khan sold that flat, he brought the money back to Pakistan through Habib Bank.
 This development exacerbates the current political scenario of the country. Although the PTI chief has tried to gain a moral high ground by voluntarily presenting himself for accountability, yet it gives leverage to the PML-N government who had been looking for such an opening. After facing venomous verbal attacks in the wake of the Panama leaks from the opposition especially PTI, this revelation has given weight to efforts of PML-N government to divert the blame on the opposition to dictate their terms on the issues about the future investigation. Government ministers and other officials have been busy reaping gains on this point through scathing attacks on the PTI chief to soften the opposition stance on the issues such as terms of reference. But the PPP Senator Aitzaz Ahsan has appreciated Khan voluntarily presenting himself for accountability.
 The recent turn of events highlights the sorry state of political affairs in the country. Khan was the most vocal voice in demanding the resignation of the prime minister. He said even in his recent public rallies that the rich of the world used offshore tax havens to either launder black money or to evade taxes. In the light of the current revelation, especially when his party spokesperson had denied the claim, this dents the credibility of the PTI chief in demanding the prime minister’s resignation. Since Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan Anwar Zaheer Jamali has also refused to form a special judicial commission in this regard, this leaves the fate of the whole scenario in the hands of the political elites. Both sides are busy in exchanging scathing verbal attacks to gain political capital. Over the years, we have witnessed such scandals that saw ugly politics of blame game but were eventually settled through political bargains. Not surprisingly, even this time politicians of Pakistan seem to be treading the same old path.
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