‘The US is making Pakistani wives divorce their husbands’

Off The Cuff

“THE United States is behind the increase in divorce rates in Pakistan.”

If you live in Pakistan, you must be used to hearing – and perhaps making – such and even more outrageous statements. But not I.

I arrived in Pakistan last week. Even before PIA’s plane took off from Toronto airport, my fellow passengers had already resorted to what I know now was their favourite pastime: America bashing.

“Shuja Khanzada was assassinated because he was about to expose America’s involvement in terrorism in Pakistan,” whispered my fellow passenger, while we were delayed by an hour at the tarmac.

With hundreds of millions spent on PR, and billions more in humanitarian aid, America continues to struggle to build a positive image in Muslim countries. With extremist mullahs on one hand and Socialists and Marxists on the other, the anti-American propaganda in Pakistan thrives in madrassahs and universities alike.

What distinguishes Pakistan from the rest is how readily willing its educated class is to fall for propaganda. I was surprised, to put it mildly, when I heard a rather distinguished group of Islamabad-based male professionals nodding in agreement to the claim that the US was behind the sudden increase in divorce rates in Pakistan.

I couldn’t resist to probe, “How so?”

“Well, Americans are awarding thousands of scholarships for higher education to Pakistani women. On their return, these women are more in tune with the American values than they are with those of their homeland. They ultimately leave their husbands,” explained one.

That this statement is factually untrue is a minor concern to me. I am alarmed about the fact that it is virtually impossible for a few hundred urban women to influence the divorce rates in the largely rural Pakistan.

Let’s look at this in a systematic way. First, has there been a dramatic increase in divorce rates in Pakistan? I believe the statistics are not available to make a conclusive statement. The published research is rather shoddy.

Lawyers interviewed for recent news reports did not attempt to hide the misogyny-laden twisted logic and argued that education has led to financial independence for women, who are now increasingly asking for divorce instead of “compromising”.

It is strange that those who hold such an opinion do not question the practice where Muslim men can arbitrarily divorce their wives and are not bound to any communal or legal arbitration.

“I divorce thee” times three is the trump card Muslim men have used to break off marriages instantaneously. However, when women request for arbitration on divorce, these men see red.

Let’s analyse the claim about the Americans exclusively funding Pakistani women for higher education, which the conspiracy theorists believe is causing the surge in divorces in Pakistan.

The Fulbright program in Pakistan, for instance, provides scholarships for doctoral and Masters studies abroad. In 2015, the Fulbright program in Pakistan enrolled 180 students. A survey of 86 of the 180 revealed that a mere 27 per cent of the 2015 class were women. So from a total of 180, I expect fewer than 60 to be women.

Even if the entire lot of Fulbright women – who will eventually graduate a few years down the road – divorce their spouses, they still cannot possibly influence the 90 million Pakistani women on the matter of divorce.

Aisi Taisi Hypocrisy

An even stronger strand of anti-American sentiment comes from certain members of the military. Senior decorated army officers may be equally gullible or biased. Confidential diplomatic dispatches from the US embassy in Islamabad revealed that Anne Patterson, the US Ambassador to Pakistan in 2008, “received astonishingly naive and biased questions about America” when she addressed Army’s National Defence University in Islamabad.

“The elite of this crop of colonels and brigadiers are receiving biased NDU training, with no chance to hear alternative views of the US,” the dispatch quoted the ambassador.

Not much has changed since then. The tit-for-tat song, Aisi Taisi Hypocrisy, written in response to the Indian Aisi Taisi Democracy is yet another example of the flourishing anti-West sentiments in Pakistan. Written by Hassan Miraj, a major in Pakistan Army, and sung by my younger cousin, Mujtaba Ali, the song draws a contrast between the ills in India and Pakistan. However, the song squarely puts the blame for Pakistan’s ills on the white race (a euphemism for Americans), Arabs and the news media. Scapegoating at its best.

America should not be judged only for the misdeeds of CIA and Pentagon. The same goes for Pakistanis, who should not be seen in the narrow context of martial laws or the intelligence intrigues.

American universities may be expensive, but they are the best in the world. That Pakistani students are welcomed in the US is no intrigue. Pakistanis should welcome people-to-people contacts with the rest of the globe and resist narcissist xenophobia that feeds conspiracy theories.

As for the surge in divorce rates, maybe, just maybe, it is time for Pakistani men who beat their wives to stop doing so.– Dawn

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