Ex-Pak Minister Arrested: How Islamabad Doesn't Spare Even 'Favourites'

Shireen Mazari, a PTI stalwart, was arrested recently for failing to show up in a land record case.

5 min read

On the afternoon of 22 May, Saturday, Islamabad-based lawyer and rights activist Imaan Mazari-Hazir tweeted about her mother, Shireen Mazaari, being beaten up and taken away by male police officers.

Politician-academic Shireen Mazari is a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) stalwart; she was also Pakistan’s Minister for Human Rights in the recently dismissed Imran Khan government. The mother-daughter duo, with their conflicting stances on Pakistan politics and security policies, is the closest one can get to the intriguing Akshay Kumar-Twinkle Khanna dynamic across the border.

Mother vs Daughter

Imaan Mazari-Hazir has frequently highlighted Khan’s government and security agencies on governance and human rights issues (once even raising her mother’s ire, who had to call her out on social media, saying, “I am ashamed you would resort to such low personalised unsubstantiated attacks esp since as a lawyer u shd (sic) know without any proof hurling such accusations is defamation”). Shireen Mazari is someone who, until her recent tirade against the ‘neutral’ Pakistan military being 'less than neutral' towards the PTI government, had always toed a conservative and pro-establishment line in her politics.

This weekend, she was arrested following orders of the Punjab Anti-Corruption Establishment as she failed to show up repeatedly in a land record case. Fifty years ago, her father had allegedly changed land deeds by fraud so that the family could avoid losing thousands of acres of land when Zulfiqar Bhutto introduced land reforms. But as it is with all things Pakistan, it is never just about an altercation with an accountability commission.


Who Are the Mazaris?

Shireen Mazari’s parents went on to serve as members of Parliament in the 1980s. Her father had defeated veteran politician Sherbaz Mazari in 1988, and her mother was elected on the women’s seat in the Junejo-led Pakistani Parliament from 1985 to 1988. Shireen Mazari returned from Columbia University at the same time with a PhD project on Revolutionary Warfare. Much to the chagrin of her male colleagues, she went on to head the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies at Islamabad’s Quaid-e-Azam University, where some of her students were serving officers from the Pakistani military.

In 1993, when she fulfilled a cherished dream to publish an independent newsmagazine (the weekly Pulse), her detractors jumped at a technicality that does not allow government employees to indulge in any private business. While Pulse ceased publications a couple of years down the road, Mazari went on to edit a daily, Nation, and head the Institute of Strategic Studies.
Shireen Mazari, a PTI stalwart, was arrested recently for failing to show up in a land record case.

File photo of Shireen Mazari

(Photo: Facebook/@ShireenMazari1.PTI)

Her politics remained right-of-centre even when she was grilling Pakistan’s senior military brass on their battle tactics during military exercises. A natural corollary to her political journey with PTI would have been taking up the charge of Pakistan’s foreign policy. But perhaps she made Imran Khan’s political handlers nervous, and so, she was handed Pakistan's Human Rights Ministry in 2018.

Memories of Another Midnight Hearing

Condemnation of her arrest was swift and came from across political lines; many, including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, pointed out that her arrest smacked of political victimisation. As a result of all the furore, the court staff of the Islamabad High Court, who had retired for the day, returned and kept courts open till late night, evoking the memories of another night when courts had opened at midnight to hasten the Imran Khan’s government's ouster. IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah ordered Mazari's recovery before midnight, which did happen. Punjab’s Chief Minister, Hamza Shehbaz, also ordered her immediate release.

The whole sordid affair can be understood through various lenses. For one, it shows how the worlds of misogyny and political victimisation meet in Pakistan. Attempts to gag the political opposition and target the female cadre of the party are nothing new for Pakistan, whether it were the Bhutto ladies some decades ago, or Begum Kulsoom Nawaz and Maryam Nawaz more recently.

Shireen Mazari, a PTI stalwart, was arrested recently for failing to show up in a land record case.

Dr Shireen Mazari with Imran Khan

(Photo: Facebook/@ShireenMazari1.PTI)

A Case Study of Politics & Privilege

The Mazari arrest and release can also be understood as a case study of Pakistani politics and privilege. The Islamabad High Court could remind the agencies that no Member of National Assembly can be arrested without the permission of the Speaker of the National Assembly, and Shireen Mazari remained an MNA on account of “not having been de-notified from her seat”, and that her fundamental rights have been violated. This while another member of Parliament, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) representative, Ali Wazir, remains incarcerated since December 2020 and just had his bail plea hearing put off for the third day.

The incident is also a reminder of how on the former Human Rights Minister's watch, the number of enforced disappearances in Pakistan continued to rise – the number of missing Baloch alone is around 5,000.

Just a couple of weeks before the vote of no confidence, those protesting against the recent round of Baloch disappearances had been baton-charged by the Islamabad Capital Police. The lawyer, Imaan Mazari, who had joined the protest, stated that the authorities claimed that their protest had to be stopped lest it jeopardises an upcoming visit by the Australian cricket team. Though her mother condemned the state violence, no one had forgotten how a Bill on missing persons in the National Assembly never made it to the Senate – a case of a missing Bill now! While Pakistan’s security agencies are never named, it doesn't take much to figure out why certain actors would want the Bill not to be introduced.

The House Always Wins

This time around, too, both Mazaris have hinted towards ISI involvement in the arrest. This brings us to the sad reality, that when it comes to Pakistan-like places with fluctuating fortunes and luck, the “House always wins”. One will never know whether it was Imaan Mazari-Hazir calling out the state when it came to Baloch disappearances or Shireen Mazari highlighting the role played by the establishment in the ouster of the Imran Khan government that triggered the arrest.

However, the events of the weekend are a stern warning of what happens when even the favoured ones shift from the script.

(Aneela Babar is the author of We are all Revolutionaries Here: Militarism, Political Islam and Gender in Pakistan ( 2017) and a forthcoming memoir on consuming Hindi cinema in Rawalpindi. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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