Pakistani Military: Feminist or Not? | Feministaniat

Dec 2014

Feministaniat | BLOG

The latest response to the attack on students in Peshawar has rekindled hypernationalist discourse in Pakistan, which in turn, is being strategically used by the State to fortify its own invincibility. Over the years, I have developed different coping mechanisms against this sort of hypernationalism in social media. Sometimes, I write rants on Facebook and sometimes I like to unfollow/delete the bigotry out of my life one click at a time. When Zarb e Azab first started, though, I found myself at a bit of loss when pro-military, pro-War on Terror bakwas was being packaged as feminism.

First, what’s being suggested here is that Pakistani women have ‘made it’ because women are taking combat roles in the military. Secondly, there is an insinuation that the Pakistani State, and the military in particular, is advancing the feminist cause. In reality, as we all know, most Pakistani women do ‘lag very behind’ as they continue to die and get displaced by the War on Terror and also continue to have their labor and status be systemically marginalized by the State’s support for a patriarchal and capitalist system.

I’m not worried that factually incorrect statements are being used to justify nationalism. In fact, that is the very definition of propaganda. What concerns me, is how and why images of women fighter pilot and women police taking on the Taliban is being used in this particular moment and what this means for feminism in Pakistan.
I can hear some of you saying, ‘Really, Hadia, would you rather that we still be using images of Pakistani women from the 1965 and 1971 wars where their role was limited to praying for the success and well-being of the sajeele jawan?’


To those voices, I say, point well-taken. So I’ll complicate the question: what does it mean for the Pakistani woman’s role in war to have transformed from passive dua-making to active ‘lady-fighting’ the Taliban in this particular moment in history?Anti-imperialist and post-colonial feminists argue that the current use of these ‘feminist’ images by the security and military apparatuses of countries like the US, UK and Pakistan is a ‘cynical use of the rhetoric of women’s rights and empowerment in order to “camouflage” the war aims and methods of the US and its allies (Hunt and Rygiel 2007), and as a “sexual decoy” for the “imperial democracy” of the US administration (Eisenstein 2007) (Pratt 2013).’1

Since 9/11, the older colonial discourse of ‘white men saving brown women from brown men (Spivak 1988)’ has been reinvented. In this new era, the world is fictitiously divided into those who respect women’s rights and those who don’t. By portraying Muslim men as barbarians and misogynists, they are othered as ‘dangerous brown men’, violence against whom is normalized and warranted. What differentiates the new era from the old is that feminism, rather than being the sole responsibility of White men (and women), generously lends itself for use to a select few brown women. The likes of Ayesha Farooq and Malala Yousafzai then graduate from being passive victims in need of saving to active ‘lady fighters’ against terrorists. These women, whose genuine feminist intentions are not being questioned here, are opportunistically used by the imperialist powers and their allies to feminist-wash the War on Terror as a war for women’s rights.

This feminist-washing of the hypernationalist discourse further sanitizes the indiscriminate violence again ‘dangerous brown men’ because it is assumed that for them being killed by a woman is especially ‘embarrassing’, which of course, is rejoiced by both nationalists and those who want to celebrate ‘women’s day’.

So when we see images of Ayesha Farooq sitting in a cockpit, ‘war-ready’ to bomb North Waziristan, we don’t think of the Pakistani military’s historical and current complicity in patriarchy and the oppression of its own people through the deaths of innocent women, children and men in drone attacks in the tribal areas, the torture and murder of hundreds of Baloch and other activists, the rape of thousands of Bengali women in 1971, the oppression of peasants, including women, in Okara or even the displacement of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children during the Zarb-e-Azab. Instead, we think of the Pakistani military as the only beacon of feminist hope in a country divided into those who hate women and those who let them fly air planes.

If inclusion in a violent military apparatus is seen as a sign of women’s empowerment, then what does that mean for feminism in Pakistan?

Feministaniat is a new Tanqeed blog which will debate and answer such questions by entertaining critical and anti-imperialist feminist ideas on culture, politics and economy in Pakistan.

Hadia Akhtar is a feminist and sarcasm expert.

  1. Pratt, N. (2013). Weaponising feminism for the “war on terror”, versus employing strategic silence. Critical Studies on Terrorism, 6(2), 327-331. []

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