File photo: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan. (AFP)
File photo: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan. (AFP)

Pakistan PM, foreign minister face criticism for remarks in interviews

In an interview with the news programme Axios on HBO, Khan said men would be affected if women wore “very few clothes”.
PUBLISHED ON JUN 21, 2021 09:33 PM IST

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi were criticised on Monday by politicians and social media users for their stand on matters such as sexual violence and the status of slain Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

In an interview with the news programme Axios on HBO, Khan said men would be affected if women wore “very few clothes” when he was asked about what the interviewer said was an “epidemic of sexual violence in Pakistan”. Khan preferred not to speak out on China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, saying Pakistan prefers to discuss such matters with the Chinese side “behind closed doors”.

Qureshi, in an interview with Afghanistan’s Tolo News channel, ducked a question on whether he considered bin Laden a “martyr”. Despite Pakistan endorsing a joint statement by China, Russia and the US in March opposing the restoration of an Islamic emirate by the Taliban in Afghanistan, Qureshi didn’t offer a clear answer when he was asked if he opposed the return of an Islamic emirate.

Both Qureshi and Khan have been strongly criticised for their remarks in the interviews by Pakistan’s opposition politicians, civil society activists and social media users.

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When Khan was asked during the interview on Axios on HBO why he raised the issue of Islamophobia in the West while remaining silent on the genocide against Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region, he replied, “Whatever issues we have with the Chinese, we speak to them behind closed doors. China has been one of the greatest friends to us in our most difficult times. When we were really struggling, our economy was struggling, China came to our rescue.”

He added, “So, we respect the way they are and whatever issues we have, we speak behind closed doors.” He also sought to turn the focus to the situation in Kashmir, saying, “How come this is such a big issue in the Western world? Why are the people of Kashmir ignored? It is much more relevant compared to what might be going on [with the] Uyghurs, 100,000 Kashmiris have been killed.”

Asked if it makes him feel “sick” that he must be silent because of the money China has poured into Pakistan, Khan replied, “I look around the world, what’s happening in Palestine, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan. Am I going to start talking about everything? I concentrate on what is happening on my border, in my country.”

Khan faced more criticism for his comments on women and sexual violence. “If a woman is wearing very few clothes, it will have an impact on the men, unless they are robots. I mean it’s common sense,” he said.

“We don’t have discos here, we don’t have nightclubs, so it is a completely different society [and] way of life here. So if you raise temptation in the society to the point and all these young guys have nowhere to go, it has consequences in the society,” he added.

Referring to the remarks by Qureshi and Khan, senior Pakistani journalist Abbas Nasir tweeted, “Is OBL a martyr? Hmmm...I will let that pass. To a question on blaming rape victims: Women who wear too few clothes are a temptation. Men are not robots. Two of Pakistan’s finest minds. The first went to Cambridge, the second to Oxford and got a post-grad from Annabels, London.”

Former Pakistani parliamentarian Farhatullah Babar tweeted, “How one explains @SMQureshiPTI refusal to call Osama a terrorist even knowing well the terror attacks launched by OBL? Qureshi doesn’t want to invite the question how a terrorist lived in a cantonment for years. Question inevitable. Answer is clear: complicity or incompetence.”

Columnist Mehr Tarar said in a tweet, “Prime Minister Khan must refrain from giving his personal explanations for increase in sexual abuse and rape cases in Pakistan. Not a shred of evidence to prove that clothing has anything to do with Pakistan’s rape cases. I thought he had learnt his lesson after the last debacle.”

Pakistan People’s Party leader Sherry Rehman, a former ambassador to the US, too questioned Khan’s remarks. “Does IK not know that by saying women should dress a certain way, he is giving oppressors and criminals against women a new narrative to justify their behaviour. There is NO justification for a prime minister to talk this way. Highly irresponsible and condemnable,” she tweeted.

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