Are Vice Vigilantes Running Even More Amok in Pakistan?

Mariana Baabar in Outlook India:

Just the other day Tahera Abdullah was driving down the spiffy Margalla Road in Islamabad, the windows rolled down to enjoy the evening breeze. A development worker, her silvery hair could tell anyone she’s 50 plus. Tahera stopped at the traffic signal; an eight-year-old boy accosted her: didn’t she know Islam required her to cover her head? Tahera immediately rolled up the window. “How do you argue with an eight-year-old?” she asks. But the encounter with Pakistan’s religious extremism, at once frightening and puerile, has prompted Tahera to choose sweating inside the car over letting in the breeze. “We women are feeling more threatened today,” she says.

The streets of Islamabad are menacing women, compelling them to be what they are not, what they have never been. Consultant Sara Javeed realised this when she lit a cigarette in her car recently. “I quickly stubbed it. I don’t want strangers asking me why I’m smoking. This is the new me,” she says dolefully. Sara feels the emerging extremism could Talibanise Pakistan. “I don’t want to live in such a state,” she declares.

You can hear the winds of extremism whistle eerily even in Parliament. This week, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Sherry Rehman, as progressive as she’s glamorous, wrote to the speaker of the lower house asking him to stop her monthly stipend as she wasn’t anyway being allowed to speak on vital issues. “I’d never want to wait for anything to happen to me personally before I stood up to speak for women who are today in a far more dangerous situation than even during Zia-ul Haq’s times,” she says.