Concern about reproductive health isn’t quite that
A bill dealing with reproductive health presented by Atia Enayatullah has met with some turbulence courtesy the comments of Kashmala Tariq, the Information Secretary of the Pakistan Muslim League. Ms Tariq said that here in the ‘Islamic’ Republic of Pakistan where all laws must be in conformity with Islam, the Quran, Sunnah and the Constitution, she was concerned that the bill may be in contravention of Islamic laws; that where there was any doubt of a matter being in conformity with Islamic laws it should be referred to the Council of Islamic Ideology for its opinion. Since the bill includes the subject of abortion, she added that changing the name or camouflaging the true purpose of the bill with a title containing the words ‘reproductive health’ may hide another, actual purpose from the general public, for whom abortion is a sensitive issue. She said that consensus was required, and that everybody should be taken on board in the matter.
Ms Tariq also suspects the bill of pursuing sinister ‘foreign agendas,’ saying that some NGOs may be attempting to bypass procedures by means of this bill.
Islam, closely followed by the vague threat of foreign agendas (CIA and other American plots, Zionist conspiracies, Indian subversive action, et al) with NGOs hovering in the background, and failing all else, the undemocratic angle…these are flags readily and conveniently applied by politicians here.
Kashmala Tariq, by virtue of her qualifications and experience, such as her work relating to the dreaded Hudood Ordinance, would be expected to rise beyond such clichés, but that appears a vain hope. Depending on the motive, the results are useful: beards bristle, righteous breasts heave, and fat fists thump the air, and whatever the issue, it is drowned in the gunk of deliberately aroused emotion.
Islam is an unemotional religion, which has morphed under Pakistani tutelage into a spittle flying label. Stick the label onto a debate, and it acquires a somewhat Manichean ‘you are either with us or against us’ view of the world associated with Fox News, George W Bush and Geo Television.
Pakistan is a country with a population that threatens to feed off itself very soon, if indeed it isn’t doing so already. The naive view that family planning is evil is an evil in itself. To foster this view is irresponsible.
A family with fewer children is financially better able to provide for itself. This requires no elaboration. For individuals to be provided with information and facilities that bring them to understand and implement this fact is the aim of the government of every country where the population is outgrowing its resources, and Pakistan, as the third most populous state in the world has arrived at this stage.
There are many ways of limiting the population of a country to enrich the lives of its existing and future members, and abortion is one used within bounds only in extreme situations. Leaving it unlegislated encourages quacks and dangerous medical practices. Until a true Islamic society arrives with its welfare state and socialist ideals (and we are further away from it than we could ever be), the only alternative is for us to keep our numbers down so that individuals can do what the government can/will not.
And since the government can/will not, there are NGOs on the scene: Behbud, the All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA), the Family Planning Association of Pakistan, Baahn Beli, Aurat Foundation, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Shirkat Gah, among the better known. Like with any other group of organisations, some are better than others. To tar them all with the same sinister brush dismisses the achievements of all NGOs at one stroke.
Foreign governments interested in subverting the interests of Pakistan would provide free fertility treatment to hamper development rather than limiting the population of this country. Ms Tariq’s NGO reference was probably fuelled by the fact that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights met women legislators in Pakistan recently, and among those present was Ms Enayatullah. But collaborating with the UN is not necessarily a bad thing seeing that help is hardly available at home.
To suggest that ‘everyone’ should be taken on board in this matter is tantamount to consulting a lion about a goat’s welfare, given that the crux of the problem at hand is exactly all those teeming ‘everyones’ mostly bearded, qualified to give neither a medical nor a religious opinion on the matter. When faced with unconstructive comments, it is best to question the motive behind such remarks, which in the case of politicians is generally electoral. It is time to take bold measures in the interests of the nation rather than of a few at the top, and those taking such measures need support.