Faith-based Politics, Enlightened Moderation and the Pakistani Women’s Movement
Author(s)Zia, Afiya Shehrbano
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AbstractSoon after his coup in October 1999, General Pervez Musharraf reassured the Pakistani people that his was not an obscurantist religious agenda. Instead, he referred to the Ata Turk model as his inspiration in his mission to rescue Pakistanis from corrupt democratic governments that had dominated the 1990s. A photo release of him holding two Pekinese dogs in his arms (commonly considered na-paak or unclean by Muslims) and surrounded by his short-haired wife, elderly mother and artist daughter, earned him a seal of approval from progressive upper-classes at home and the international community at large. Unlike the previous dictator, Gen Zia ul Haq, who carried out the oppressive and misogynist Islamisation project between 1977-88, this new-age military ruler seemed to espouse modern, ‘secular’ and liberal credentials. Thereafter began an era that has been dominated by several sociological changes in the country. In this article, three underlying concepts will be explored in relation to these changes and their impact on women. These include a critique of the romanticisation of the agency of women members belonging to the religio-political party in government; the strategic shifts in ideological positioning within the women’s movement; and the impact of the debate over religion and secularism in relation to women’s political reality. This essay discusses the interplay of the understandings and contradictions of Islamic and secular identity politics in the Pakistani women’s movement. The methodology incorporates a reading of existing scholarship as well as observation of feminist activism in the political context of Pakistan.