Activists condemn minimal female representation in PTI government

Supporters of Pakistan's cricketer-turned politician and head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) Imran Khan, distributes sweets in Karachi after Khan take oath as a Prime Minister on August 18, 2018. Despite the strong support of women for Khan, the number of women appointed to key positions in Khan's government is minimal. (AFP / RIZWAN TABASSUM
Updated 28 August 2018

Activists condemn minimal female representation in PTI government

  • Out of 62 available cabinet seats, the PTI coalition government has appointed only four women as ministers — three in the center and one in Punjab
  • The 15-member cabinet in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has no female representation at all

ISLAMABAD: Women’s rights campaigners have expressed concern over the minimal female presence in the new Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf government’s cabinets in the center, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, urging the party to review its appointments.
“Pakistan’s politics and political parties are unfortunately male dominated and that’s why women lawmakers are not given the importance they deserve for being a parliamentarian,” said Farzana Bari, a gender specialist and women’s rights activist. She added that there is need to change the political culture in the country through mass awareness campaigns.
“Women make up 50 percent of Pakistan’s population and yet they are yet to be included in the decision-making process at the government level,” she said.
Bari said that activists and gender-equality organizations have been lobbying for increased inclusion of women in the country’s politics and decision-making processes, but much remains to be done.
“Legislation is the only solution for due share of female lawmakers in cabinets and other decision-making bodies,” she said, adding that female lawmakers in Pakistan have been historically more active in raising issues on the floor of parliament compared with their male colleagues.
In the July 25 general elections, PTI emerged as the single largest party in the center and the provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where it has now formed governments.
The 24-member cabinet in the center appointed by new Prime Minister Imran Khan, the PTI leader, includes only three women: Dr. Shireen Mazari, Zubaida Jalal and Dr. Fehmida Mirza. In Punjab, Dr. Yasmeen Rashid is the only woman in the 23-member cabinet, and there are no women at all in the 15-member cabinet of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Alia Amirali, deputy secretary of the Women Democratic Front, said that political parties in Pakistan, including PTI, like to portray themselves as progressive and supporters of women’s rights while campaigning, but fail to recognize the importance and potential of women when in power.
“Our women are educated and vibrant and they want to play their role in the nation building but our male-dominant politics fails them,” she said. The situation for women will not change, she added, until female lawmakers of all party affiliations speak up for their rights, inside and outside the parliament.
“If the women lawmakers cannot get their own due rights, how will they fight for rights of ordinary girls and women in villages and remote areas?” said Amirali. “No nation can develop without the active participation of women, and our rulers need to realize this fact as early as possible.”
Professor Tahir Malik, an academic and political analyst, said political parties largely ignore women lawmakers when appointing members of the cabinet and other decision-making bodies, believing that they have already adequately accommodated female lawmakers simply by granting them seats in the parliament.
“The situation is likely to remain the same until more women become members of the parliament by winning direct elections, instead of being elected on reserved seats,” he added.
Azhar Laghari, PTI’s head of public relations, said that his party holds its elected women in high esteem and will give them more cabinet positions in the coming months.
“You will see more women ministers in the center and provinces where the PTI is in government after the cabinets are expanded in next few months,” he said. “Ours is the only party that has effectively raised women’s issues at all forums and we will continue doing so, besides increasing their strength in the cabinets.”

US official warns Taliban attacks could derail Afghan peace

Updated 35 min 34 sec ago

US official warns Taliban attacks could derail Afghan peace

  • Khalilzad urges militant group to honor ‘historic opportunity’ and end decades of war

KABUL: The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation warned on Monday that increasing attacks by the Taliban could undermine the historic peace deal signed between Washington and the militant group in February.

Zalmay Khalilzad also said the strikes could derail the ongoing intra-Afghan talks in Doha, Qatar, that look to end the protracted conflict in the country.

“Continued high levels of violence can threaten the peace process and the agreement, and the core understanding that there is no military solution. Violence today remains distressingly high in spite of the recent reaffirmation of the need for a substantial reduction,” he said in tweets on Monday.

Since last week, the Taliban have unleashed a series of attacks in parts of Afghanistan, particularly in the southern Helmand province, where more than 35,000 people have been displaced over recent days, Afghan officials told Arab News.

In response, US forces in the country launched several airstrikes on Taliban positions, which the insurgent group described as a breach of the February accord on Sunday.

Responding to the Taliban’s accusations, Khalilzad said they were “unfounded charges of violations and inflammatory rhetoric,” and “do not advance peace.”

Washington also accused the Taliban of breaking the historic agreement, which, among other things, looks to finalize a complete withdrawal of US-led troops from the country.

Khalilzad said the airstrikes were conducted to support Afghan troops as part of Washington’s commitment to defend them, if necessary.

He added that the Taliban attacks in Helmand, including some in the provincial capital that targeted Afghan security forces, led to a recent meeting in Doha where both sides agreed to “decrease attacks and strikes.” And while levels of violence in Helmand have fallen, it “remains high” across the country, the Afghan-born diplomat added.

Some Afghan observers said the motive behind Taliban attacks was to gain an “upper hand” in negotiations.

However, Khalilzad warned of the risks involved in using this strategy.

“The belief that says violence must escalate to win concessions at the negotiations table is risky. Such an approach can undermine the peace process and repeats past miscalculation by Afghan leaders,” he said, urging all sides to honor the “historic opportunity for peace, which must not be missed.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told Arab News on Monday that the group had “no comment” on Khalilzad’s statements and that US forces had “violated the Doha agreement in various forms by carrying out excessive airstrikes.”

Mujahid added that he had “no information” on the state of attacks in Helmand province.

However, Omar Zwak, a spokesman for Helmand’s governor, told Arab News that “fighting subsided in various parts of Helmand” over the past two days.

Meanwhile, an anonymous senior official in President Ashraf Ghani’s government praised Khalilzad for “beginning to get realistic” and “breaking silence over repeated Taliban attacks.”

Another figure, Kabul-based lawmaker Fawzia Zaki, said: “The government and Afghan people, in general, insisted on enforcement of a cease-fire or a drastic reduction of violence before the beginning of the intra-Afghan dialogue.”

For it to be effective, Khalilzad and Washington “need to exert growing pressure to make them listen to the righteous demands of ours,” Zaki added.

However, experts have warned of the “growing impatience” of both sides.

Shafiq Haqpal, an analyst, told Arab News: “Khalilzad’s comments clearly show that Washington is becoming impatient with Taliban attacks and the lack of progress in the talks.”

He said that US President Donald Trump is “hoping to see a breakthrough soon,” so that he can “portray it as a success of his administration for his re-election campaign.

“But that is not happening. Maybe Washington has realized that won’t happen, so they are beginning to come out and warn the Taliban against the consequences of their attacks,” Haqpal added.