Killjoys in Swat
IN yet another blow to women’s rights in Pakistan, a group of young, spirited girls seeking to participate in a Sunday cricket match in Swat’s Charbagh town were robbed of the opportunity. The hopes of the 12-year-old organiser were dashed when the girls were sent away by angry men, telling them playing in an open ground would be ‘immodest’. How can playing a sport, a celebration of one’s talents, be seen as a mark against one’s modesty? The tehsil chairman cited ‘unstable security conditions’. After outrage ensued on the media, the local government promised a match ‘in a week or two’.
What a shame that where Malala’s fight for the rights of young girls was born, such events continue to transpire. While age-old prejudices might have had a hand in the obstruction of an innocent game, such biases have no place in contemporary Pakistan. Our nation has seen the ascent of women in all spheres, including sports, proving that skill knows no gender. The stifling of these young girls’ dreams is another reminder that the fight against extremism goes beyond kinetic action: it requires dealing with a regressive mindset. When the girls were denied permission to play, they were denied the simple joys and life lessons that sports offer, such as teamwork, perseverance and discipline. Addressing the issue requires a multifaceted approach. Community awareness programmes, promotion of female role models, the start of a dialogue with religious leaders, the creation of safe spaces for women, and introduction of sports into school curricula will all go a long way in changing deeply ingrained beliefs. It is also important to engage men and boys to stand up for the rights of their sisters, daughters and friends. Our country’s future lies in the empowerment of its youth, regardless of gender. The valleys of Swat should echo with the sound of the bat striking the ball, and with cheers, not with the silence of dreams deferred.
Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2023
T appears to be only a matter of time before a normalisation deal is announced between Saudi Arabia and Israel. While significant questions remain unanswered, specifically about the fate of the two-state solution, signals from all major stakeholders — Riyadh, Tel Aviv and Washington — indicate a deal is on the horizon. The recent statement by White House spokesman John Kirby that the “basic framework” of the plan was ready only strengthens claims by Saudi and Israeli leaders that normalisation is at hand. While the Saudis have long said they stand by the two-state solution, the commitment to this goal may be diluted in order to make peace with Tel Aviv. For example, the Palestinians may be given cosmetic guarantees that their quest for statehood will be supported in order to make the ‘mega-deal’ a reality. The truth is that the Israelis are unlikely to make any major concessions for peace, specifically where the right of return and ending illegal settlements are concerned This ‘mega-deal’ is simply a bilateral understanding between Riyadh and Tel Aviv blessed by Washington; the Palestinians are but an irritating detail. Moreover, even if the Palestinian Authority is won over by the Saudis with promises of funds and support, this does not mean the Palestinians will accept the bartering away of their historical homeland. After all, the PA is widely seen as corrupt and inefficient, in fact, an extension of the repressive Israeli occupation. And without Hamas, which rules Gaza, on board, the deal cannot be seen to have full Palestinian support.
Just as Oslo and the so-called Abraham Accords have failed to end the brutal Israeli occupation and pave the way for a viable Palestinian state, the Saudi-Israeli normalisation, too, won’t achieve anything. If the deal goes through, many Arab and Muslim states will shed their inhibitions and extend a hand of friendship towards Tel Aviv. Never mind the fact that extremist ministers within the current Israeli cabinet have talked about “wiping out” Palestinian towns and have refused to give up an inch of illegal settlements. The Arab and Muslim worlds will have to decide which side they are on: will they stand by the oppressed and call for the end of the Israeli occupation? Or will they choose the path of realpolitik, and sue for illusory peace with an apartheid state?
Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2023