The Dynamics of a Political Marriage
July 9, 2001
On the sixth day of July my interview to BBC’s Hard Talk Pakistan was broadcast. I knew the Generals who seized power two years back would dislike what I had to say. But I also knew that the democratic principles for which my Party and Family sacrificed so much, called upon me to speak out.
Musharaf has no mandate to represent Pakistan”, I told the BBC. “The trip to India is geared to take pressure off from Afghanistan where sanctions are making life difficult for Islamabad. It’s all tactics. Moreover, as an unelected dictator, he lacks the mandate to represent my people and my country.”
Three hours after the Hard Talk interview was broadcast, the telephone rang. It was midnight. I picked up the phone. I learnt that my husband was kidnapped from his Islamabad hospital bed, where he is kept in solitary confinement. The windows are blackened to prevent him looking out at the blue sky and the green grass. Often there is a closed circuit camera monitoring him around the clock.
“They have taken him away and we do not know where,” I was told. My children were asleep and I could make phone calls without worrying about them listening in to the conversation. Young minds are easily affected.
Several calls followed to find out Asif’s location from Party supporters in the government. I learnt that Asif was being flown twelve hundred miles away to a city called Hyderabad, a city whose people have always shown great affection to me. I quickly asked Party officials to alert our supporters in Hyderabad and many were woken up in the early hours of the morning. They responded with enthusiasm. By the time Asif was produced in court, a large crowd of lawyers and the public had gathered. They shouted slogans calling for Asif’s release and vociferously declared his innocence.
The action of my interview to BBC, and the reaction of the regime on Asif, is a clear glimpse into the workings of a political marriage in a traditional Muslim society. If my own role of a working woman in a Muslim society was new, so was the role of my spouse. Too many in Muslim societies see a woman as a piece of property owned and possessed by men. A woman is viewed as an entity without the right to life, custody of her children or choice in the husband she marries. These are the “serious” issues that men alone are given the wisdom to decide.
Women, therefore, can be forced into marriages, killed if they walk out on abusive marriages and denied custody to children in the event that divorce is permitted. Women are debased and seen as mere extensions of husbands and Fathers and Brothers.
The modern Muslim woman believes otherwise. She sees Islam giving her the right to choice, to equality and to opportunity. Many of the modern males concur. There are now more working women across the length and breadth of the vast Islamic world. But the traditionalists are still to accept the modern role of the Muslim woman in the twenty-first century. Even as more Muslim countries allow women entrance to Parliament, and women turn to professions, the implacable opposition of the traditionalists remains.
My husband Asif is a victim to traditional thinking, conscious and unconscious, in too many male minds unable to come to terms with the changes that my lifestyle signifies. He is the hostage to my political career. Viewed as the man who failed male expectations in treating his wife as a piece of property, anger is vented on him. He is blamed for “permitting” her to walk and work outside the four walls of the house and the four confines of the Chador. The Chador is the full-length cloth with which traditional women covered themselves. In the poisoned chalice of the extreme male thinking, he is to be punished for what I do.
To his credit and courage, Asif bore every indignity, punishment, humiliation and torture without a word of complaint. He accepted, from the day we married, that we are two different legal entities. He never interfered in my work and I never interfered in his. He had his profession and I had my profession, as do so many in the West. Back at home in the evenings, from our separate work schedules, we shared the joy of our family as others in modern communities do. This was a relationship contrary to centuries of male behaviour.
Male honour, for extremists, dictates that men are responsible for the action of women folk. My husband is the horse that is flogged every time I speak or write or live my life. I am seen as his extension and so to punish me, they must punish him. And in punishing him, they hope to force him to tell his wife to behave, to contain her behaviour and conform to his, and their, dictates.
Last December, when I was considering returning home, Asif was snatched from his sleep and shifted suddenly and without warning to Islamabad. Despite his painful spondolytis and court calls to release him on medical bail, he was denied freedom. He was to be punished. He was taken in an armoured personnel carrier to the far-flung area of an old British fort in the northern part of Pakistan.
During one proceeding at Attock, after another statement of mine, the roof fell down on Asif. He was saved by the plank hitting the fan and hurtling out of his direction. Apparently, one of the military guards was walking on the old roof when it collapsed straight on where Asif was sitting. I am still waiting to hear how the guard escaped falling in with the collapsing roof.
I have three children. My eldest daughter is eleven. For eight years of her life, she has lived without a Father held to punish her Mother. For eight years, in two spans of opposition since 1990, my husband lost his liberty, lost the right to see his children grow or to share with them each exciting new moment of their childhood. Even their grandfather was arrested and remains in prison.
Despite a mountain of charges, each more incredible than another, God’s Mercy was upon us. Despite politically motivated investigations, handpicked judges, motivated prosecutors and a billion rupees spent in government funds on detectives, law firms and propaganda, not a single charge was proved.
Often cases are dismissed when pre-trial publicity prejudices the public mind. In our case, the pre trial publicity prejudiced the public mind, but the cases still continued.
The revenge for my BBC Hard Talk interview is a classic illustration of the murder of justice in my country.
My husband was picked up and taken to a destination unknown to him. He was denied sleep through the night. He was flown in a private helicopter belonging to a charity known as the Edhi Trust before being produced before Judge Solangi in the Anti Terrorist Court in Hyderabad.
The Hyderabad murder trial is the fourth case, since the military backed the overthrow of my government in 1996, which carries the death sentence. The military wants to remind me that it hanged my Father, Premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in 1979, for conspiring to kill a man still alive in 2001. They want to tell me that after that brazen act which went unpunished, they could be equally brazen about my husband.
But as a person with Faith, I believe that the time of birth and death are written. I know that time passes, realities change and it’s important to face life’s challenges with dignity and courage. That’s what both my husband and I try to do.
Kidnapping my husband from his hospital bed three hours after my BBC interview in violation of the orders of Pakistan’s Supreme Court was brazen.
Equally brazen was the handpicked judge in the special anti terrorist court. Asif explained to Judge Solangi that he was flown into Hyderabad after a sleep deprived, nightlong-unexpected journey from state-to-state without legal notice and his production was illegal. He expected the court to provide relief to him. The Judge refused to allow him time and right to hire a defense counsel although the right to defense is guaranteed under law. The Judge proceeded to record witness testimony without Asif even knowing the case material against him or the purpose of the prosecution witnesses’ testimony.
Ironically, the case relates to the murder of a man who died while Asif was locked up in a high security prison some four years back.
The actions of Judge Solangi cast a deep stain on growing controversies regarding the rule of law in Pakistan. Pakistan’s judiciary moved recently to clear up its image. Two judges resigned amidst public hopes that justice in Pakistan could be strengthened. The actions of Judge Solangi showed the deepness of the rot in parts of Pakistan’s justice system. It also highlighted the need to reform the judiciary to ensure that the rule of law could prevail in the country.
I do worry for my husband. He is ailing and in need of medical treatment. Three years back, the courts called for his release on medical grounds. But the regime challenges this hoping to squeeze us further. They want Asif to do a deal with them. They want to rid politics of the Bhutto factor and they want to “prove” that their false accusations are correct. In old days, highwaymen robbers stopped carriages and held people ransom for money. So too with the Generals.
In a duel of unexpected strengths, the regime has the force of might with it. We have the force of right. Might and Right are on a collision course in a marriage where the husband is a hostage to his wife’s political fortune. In Pakistan, we have a saying that victory and defeat are in God’s hand. The weapon in the individual’s hand is the personal conduct. Despite the odds, we know that our struggle is writing the history of the future direction of our country.
And so we take the unusual events in our stride, although it is easier for me. I am free and with the children. Asif is in prison. Eight years of his life snatched since 1990. But the thirst of the persecutors is unquenched. He’s had the courage to bear the prison, entanglement in a mountain of serious and life-threatening cases, tortured mentally and physically, nearly killed under torture, without a conviction. Asif is ailing. I am proud of his dignity and courage.
But his fight for due process and justice is more than a lone persons struggle. It is the struggle of each one of us that believes in human dignity, the rule of law and the majesty of justice.
In this modern Muslim marriage, I travel the world promoting democracy never knowing when I will see my husband again. My children ask, as the almond trees in our garden grow bigger, when they can see their Father. I tell them I do not know but that their Father is a special man for facing the wrath of those that want to punish their Mother. I tell them they must be patient for God rewards those who are patient.
In the Muslim world, there is a growing recognition that Muslim women need to cross extra barriers of prejudice to succeed. Yet, even as more Muslim women enter the work force, its important to recognise that prejudice against working Muslim woman walks hand in hand with prejudice against the husband of the working Muslim woman. Therefore the challenges that modern Muslim marriages face are greater than those faced in the West. And these are the challenges the young Muslim couples, better educated than their Parents, and with higher ambitions, will face as they cross the threshold into the world of today.
I wish them well.