Militancy in Pakistan’s northwest impacts on Balochistan women


Islamabad : The impact of militant activities in Pakistan’s northwest has spilled over to the equally turbulent Balochistan province in the south, with women being increasingly marginalised at the bidding of fundamentalist elements.

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Militants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda groups already control the picturesque Swat Valley in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and have ordered the closure of all girls’ schools in the area.

The impact of this is now being felt in Balochistan capital Quetta, where a large number of restaurants have stopped serving women.

“The practice is being seen as a spill-over of the Swat problem to the rest of Pakistan,” Daily Times reported Sunday.

Quetta residents told the newspaper that religious leaders believe “that a man and a woman socialise only for ‘immoral activities’ and shops and restaurants that women visit become a target of their moral policing”.

Thus, certain popular restaurants in Quetta now display boards reading: “For gentlemen only. Women not allowed.”

“As the self-proclaimed champions of Islam believe eating outside along with one’s family is un-Islamic, they have been pressuring the owners of these restaurants to permanently shut down the sections of the restaurants which were formerly exclusively for women and families,” Daily Times noted.

Take the case of the Baig Snack Bar. Located on the city’s most crowded Jinnah Road, it is one of the most popular eating joints in Quetta. Given its popularity among women and children, the outlet had even dedicated a separate room for women and families.

“But the restaurant has recently succumbed to pressure from the conservative religious elements after allegations that it was being used as a ‘dating spot’ for young boys and girls,” Daily Times said.

“The section reserved for women and families has now been converted into a ‘gents only’ eating room and several boards have been displayed announcing that women are not allowed entry into the restaurant,” the newspaper added.

A girl student of the Bolan Medical College expressed her disgust over this.

“This is sheer discrimination. No restaurant has the right to treat women like animals. Is this what Islam teaches about women?” she asked, adding that she and her friends often frequented the restaurant.

Zafar Baloch, a student of the Mass Communications Department at the University of Balochistan, says most restaurants in Quetta do not welcome women. “The handful of remaining popular restaurants are also being forced to stop serving women,” he said.

Senior journalist Shahzad Shah Mir told the Daily Times that the Taliban and their supporters had been penetrating into Quetta and its suburbs and that they enjoy overwhelming support of some sections of the population, including many ministers of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl that is a part of the provincial coalition government.

“Recently, video and CD shops and Internet cafes have been attacked by extremists with bombs, and threats have been given to those deemed to promote obscenity and shamelessness in the society,” Mir pointed out.

If these activities are not checked at once, Quetta could become the next Swat, Mir warned, adding: “What message do we want to give to the world? It’s restaurants today, and tomorrow it will be girls’ schools and colleges.”