Back home, Pakistan's Tourism Minister Nilofer Bakhtiar faces a cleric's fatwa for "un-Islamic behaviour". But that does not stop her from recognising that this is the "best time for women in Pakistan".
On a four-day visit to India, Bakhtiar told the Hindustan Times: "in Islam there is a very strict punishment for making an allegation about a person's conduct. It is called Kazaf. What if I raise a case under Hudood laws and demand the cleric's trial under Kazaf ?"
A religious parallel court had decreed against Bakhtiar after newspa- pers printed photographs of her hugging a male colleague after a parachute jump in France. The chief cleric of Islamabad's Lal Masjid demanded the govern- ment sack Bakhtiar for violating Pakistani moral norms.
But Bakhtiar says she would repeat the act if it helps Pakistan. The parachute jump was part of a fund-raising drive for earthquake survivors in Pakistan. Bakhtiar said women have broken away from "stereotypes" under President Per- vez Musharraf's regime.
Extremists "want to create hurdles. Women like me who are role models should not be intimi- dated or cowed down," she said. Besides, Bakhtiar said, the fatwa came from a self styled court. "If this guy (cler- ic) thinks he is sitting in judgment, he should try to get both sides of the story" Reiterating an "obvious difference" in the state and status of women in Pakistan, Bakhtiar said clerics are in a minority and denied a "progressive clergy" is an oxymoron.
"When the fatwa was issued, many reli- gious people and Islamic scholars spoke in my favour But it hurts to see that what goes out to the world is that the entire country is like that. We are proud Mus- lims but it angers me when we are singled out as extremists. We are moderates," Bakhtiar said.
Her message to the world as Tourism Minister is to "come and see for yourself what we are." On domestic politics, Bakhtiar said she parted with the Pakistan People Party's Benazir Bhutto after she failed to deliver on women's issues: "After being sworn in as Prime Minister she did nothing for women.
That put me off. The Women's Reserva- tion Bil11apsed in her tenure." Bakhtiar denied knowledge about the reported Musharraf- Benazir pact. "I am not sure it will happen.
We have not been told anything officially Nei- ther has it been discussed in the Cabinet." Dismissing anti-Musharraf sentiment in Pakistan, Bakhtiar said: "President Musharraf is a brave and competent leader and can cope with dissent."
Steering clear of Congress MP Rahul Gandhi's recent remarks about the Gand- hi family partitioning Pakistan, Bakhtiar said "any remarks from any side should be constructive and take us forward." Bakhtiar said the Kashmir issue cannot be on the backburner even if people want a focus shift from politics to trade.
"As a tourism minister I may say tourism is my priority but as a politician and as government of Pakistan, Kashmir has to be tackled and we need to resolve it."