In Pakistan, a Feminist Hero Is Under Fire and on the Run

Jul 23, 2019 · 58 comments
Dr. Conde (Medford, MA.)
Gulalai Ismail is an amazingly courageous Pakistani hero and freedom fighter. I hope that many Pakistanis are as proud as her father. Stay safe, Ms. Ismail!
Mary C (Germantown NY)
It isn’t culture that holds women down. It’s the powerful who want to maintain their power. Real education will lead to change. Educated Men, make your voices heard - stand for women’s independence, for real civil rights for everyone.
Richard Rubin (Manhattan)
If this very disturbing article had been published yesterday then perhaps a reporter would have asked both Trump and Kahn about Ms. Ismail. Bad timing by the NYT, I think.
Syed (India)
She has been convicted multiple times in federal felonies for anti state agendas, spying, money laundering and provocating racial imbalance.
Théo (Montreal)
Then why torture her family and friends?
Stephen Merritt (Gainesville)
May Gulalai Ismail survive in good help and continue her important work. It will take many people like her to have even a small hope of reforming Pakistan, where the elite is extremely corrupt and self-centered. But it's important never to give up trying.
Nora (Connecticut)
America hanging onto Trump and right-winged extremism, and I can see the U.S. heading this direction in regards to Evangelicalism and women’s rights. Sounds crazy? Look at all the men accused of sexual assault and the lack of adequate prosecution, Trump and the Evangelicals attempts to remove a women’s right to choose their pregnancy, and there are murmurs of Evangelicals’ disapproval of birth control. Will this be next? Look at how the extreme right-wingers disparage women (Trump, Tucker Carlson, etc), and I feel they envision a time when women are stripped of all their rights, and we will serve only one purpose....the bedroom and the kitchen....all in the name of God.
Zach (New Jersey)
@Nora the treatment of women in Pakistan is a direct result of hundreds of years of religious teachings that promote the idea of men being fundamentally better than women. As much as some of Trumps rhetoric is scary and beyond demeaning it’s basically impossible for America women to ever end up in as horrible a situation as Pakistani women. This will pass and will only strengthen women’s rights in America over the long term.
@Zach, it’s not so much what the religion teaches people as it is how people interpret those teachings (though I don’t know enough about Islam to say you’re wrong). Men have oppressed women in the name of Christianity forever. If you don’t think such vile behavior can exist in the US, look around you. All the little subtle behavior adds up. That’s how it starts.
Jendi (Sydney)
@Nora It must be frustrating for women like Ms Ismail when women in the west equate people who believe the killing of unborn babies is not actually a women’s right issue, with those who kill and torture women for simply wanting education and freedom of speech. Such a first world problem. No wonder many women are now ashamed to call themselves feminists.
LA Carlson (St. Paul)
GO Gulalai Ismail GO; you're amazing!
Indian in US (NY)
The "selected" prime minister of Pakistan is a prop for its military establishment including the intelligence agency ISI which is the main power there. Unlike all major decisions which is under the purview of civilian leadership in any democratic country, the controlling decisions in Pakistan are taken by the military and enforced by the government. That's why brutal human rights abuses by military do not appear in media allowing it to build false propaganda and deflection against India. Pakistan is a sham democracy!
Sridhar (New Jersey)
A Pakistani journalist asked Trump if any human abuses are happening in Balochistan, another province where Pak Army has unleashed terror on civilians. No said POTUS! Pakistan walks free of any allegation. With such a President heading the most powerful nation, world is in for a disaster.
Jamie Nichols (Santa Barbara)
Where are the voices of Pakistan's religious leaders in speaking out on behalf of Ms. Ismail? Surely they must be concerned about her safety, as well as the violence routinely perpetrated against women. If Islam and its foundational text, the Qur'an, do not proscribe mistreatment of girls and women, the most vulnerable members of male dominant societies like Pakistan, what good are they--at least for females? While the use of religion to keep women in their proper place--meaning at home and obedient, and covered when in public--is a "good" insofar as it maintains long-held traditions, like slavery was for the US in 1860, the time has come to end the religion and tradition sanctioned mistreatment of women in countries like Pakistan. However, whether Pakistan has people capable of leading the masses to that end seems highly doubtful given its history. It will be a most shameful and tragic denouement if Pakistan's military and security service have their way with Ms. Ismail. I suppose it's asking too much of our "great" president to speak, much less act, on her behalf. So let us hope and pray, and do what we can to help her. Demanding that our Congressional reps speak out on her behalf is a good place to start.
Imran Khan has trumpeted himself as s reformer. She is not safe under his rule. If he can’t provide safety for this and other woman he should keep his big mouth shut and declare himself as a front civilian face and puppet of the brutal military which he is in fact
Scott Newton (San Francisco , Ca)
The US has been giving Pakistan aid in the billions per year, and they have done little in return for it except pretend to be a military and intelligence ally. I hope that we can reach a place where we no longer fund oppressive military organizations around the world, but I am guessing that our current President has little idea about these issues and their history.
Landofthefree (Mobile, Al)
What a courageous champion of women’s rights! Her story is all the more remarkable as it comes from what has become a bigoted and twisted state of society. How can we help her?
james33 (What...where)
This woman is a living testament to the power and courage of love. And she is so right when she states that fear engenders hatred. The Pakistani military is a major element of state terrorism. Their direct influence in Afghanistan has lead to the deaths of thousands including many from the US military. When will the toxic masculinity that brings so much violence to the world accept that fact that love is a strength, not a weakness.
deb (inoregon)
trump supporters, a serious question: Should this woman be denied asylum processing, as trump would have us do? Why? 2nd question: trump routinely calls feminists 'nasty women', and labels courageous women like Ms. Ismail as unworthy of citizenship for speaking their ideas. If Pakistan's president loudly proclaimed that she has no value and should 'go back where she came from', should we applaud that? Under fire and in danger: That's no way for women to live anywhere, including the squad.
lbrohl (Colorado)
My heroine!
Maggie (Maine)
The lives of so many women in the world involve oppression, proscribed roles, and violence. What a shame that my country is not using its power to , however slowly, advocate for progress for these women. Imran Khan met with Trump? Any bets on women’s rights being discussed, or even mentioned?? I stand in awe of the courage of Gulalai Ismail.
Justice (Cloud)
@Maggie "What a shame that my country is not using its power" You should be proud of our country (if you are referring the USA as your country)! Here you have freedom and rights! Comments like yours only empower opinions such as our president has been twitting recently (“if you are not happy here you can leave”). We can’t impose our cultural and social values to other countries. Especially the ones with atomic bombs. Democracy is conquered, not imposed.
Maggie (Maine)
@Justice. I would suggest there is a difference, a vast one, between “ advocate” and “ impose”. And, to paraphrase another comment further along, just because a practice is ingrained in a culture, does not make it any less a human rights abuse.
Rishi (Michighan)
@Maggie I would say to do your due diligence instead of relying on articles like these. Imran Khan has been an advocate of womens rights for as long as I can remember. His biggest voter base is comprised of women. Women hold key positions in his Parliament, Zartaj Gul, Dr Ashiq Firdous, Shireen Mazari, to name a few. All are very outspoken about women rights. So why is Gulalai being sought for ? because recently she and her party attacked a Pak army outpost, it was discovered that her party was being funded by Indian Intelligence agencies to create a new separatist movement in Pakistan. Her sister's statements being published from New Delhi should tell you all you need to know. If you have past knowledge of the strained relationship between Pakistan and India you'll be able to connect the dots. And as far as women in "these" countries, Pakistan had an elected woman Prime Minister back in the 80's, at that time the country had been in existence for just over 40 years. Meanwhile United States has yet to see a single female President in over 200 years. We have problems that need to be addressed but most of them arise due to poverty not oppression. Just research what kind of a person Imran khan is and you will know that all of this is a lie and Indian propaganda.
ChesBay (Maryland)
I hope she has fled the country. We women can't afford to lose her. Our alliance with Pakistan should be in grave jeopardy. They have never been our friends, or even our frienemies.
Cynthia (San Francisco)
May this extraordinary women’s courage in speaking truth to power inspire us all.
Lmca (Nyc)
Seems that the mindset of the General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq still operating in Pakistan after all this time. My heart goes out to Ms. Ismail's family; though little comfort, her stance will never be forgotten. To Ms. Ismail: courage, dear lady, and steadfast heart; long life and health and please know that there are more with you than are against you!
Powerful story of a courageous woman.
Eric (Oregon)
What an incredibly courageous woman. I'm curious what ever happened to the flow of military aid to Pakistan. Cutting it off would have been one of the few wise decisions of this administration - did they follow through? Or perhaps they're laying the groundwork for TrumpTower Peshawar?
Jas (NorCal)
The US cut aid to Pakistan in 2018. Less than a year later, Trump is talking about restoring that aid. Problem is, that aid goes to the military, who are the ones hunting Ma. Ismail.
Azad (San Francisco)
Unless the dysfunctional Pakistani military is reigned there is no hope for Pakistan.Post war Japan could not progress until its militaristic class was discredited. Let us not forget that The Pakistani doctor Dr Shakil Afridi is still jailed for helping American forces hunt down Osama bin Laden .I hope US is not going to forget him Pakistani Military has carried out genocide in Bangladesh, ruled Pakistan for many years of its existence, interfered with democracy, supported the religious zealots and militants in Afghanistan and Kashmir, got involved in fruitless wars which it lost and disproportionately commandeered the national resources. The mayhem and human rights abuses committed in its campaign against terrorists in Pashthun dominated area recently have been hidden form the rest of world because of local news blackout and ban on journalist access .Ms Gulalai Ismail is exposing the tip of iceberg. She needs all support from world community
cherrylog754 (Atlanta,GA)
"Its prime minister, Imran Khan, held talks on Monday with President Trump" And I'll bet not one word spoken about Gulalai Ismail. But why would you expect them to, they're of the same mold, despots.
Quantummess (Princeton)
She’s a remarkable woman! Unfortunately, I worry that the Pakistani military have already killed her. Stories out of Pakistan make me very sad in general; it’s hard to have hope for Pakistani women.
SR (Boston)
A rag-a-tag coalition of Indian muslim groups banding together to form a separate state does not a country make. Pakistan is coming apart at its seams and from everywhere else. The only issue is how long does it continue to hold - another 100 years or within the next 10-15 years? My money is on a bunch of ethnic states with affiliation to Islam in some varying form enough to terrorize its people with allegiance to whichever powerful state throws more scraps at them. (e.g. Sindh with India, Punjab with China etc etc and ofcourse America throwing hard earned tax dollars of its citizenry on regions it has no clues about and things it does not understand). Welcome to the 21st century - just like the 17th.
Jas (NorCal)
If the locals have anything to say about it, Punjab would end up with its other half. In a perfect world, that merger could create a separate country. But that won’t happen anytime soon.
Concerned Citizen (Chicago)
While I like the angle of the story, I am a bit surprised on the timing, i.e., right after Pakistan’s PM meeting with Trump. I think it will be appropriate for the NY Times to take it's perceived biases seriously.
Lmca (Nyc)
@Concerned Citizen: Virtually every news outlet runs stories about the country when heads of states visit, and/or presents past stories about that country based on content tags.
Tamza (California)
@Concerned Citizen the Hindutva trolls have infiltrated many US govt depts and media. Do not compare this woman to Malala; this one has little interest in women's emancipation - she is just seeking power.
Rishi (Michighan)
@Lmca If the Times is so innocent like you think it is. Why are they getting a statement about a Pakistani Citizen from New Delhi ? Gulalai has been accused of being funded by Indian intelligence agencies, she and her party attacked an outpost of the Pakistan army just recently. So New Delhi and Indians defending her is pretty self incriminating. Pakistan had an elected woman Prime Minister back in the 80's, the country had been in existence for just 40 years. Meanwhile United States has yet to see a single female President in over 200 years. She does not fight for feminists in Pakistan, to say that is completely wrong. Imran Khan's biggest voter base were women. He has women working in the most important key positions in the parliament. Zartaj Gul, Shireen Mizari, Dr Ashiq Firdous to name a few. This is simply a matter of national security where her party being funded by Indian intelligence agency attacked the Pak army.
Jo Williams (Keizer)
Ms. Ismail is the one that should be sitting next to President Trump- representing the Pakistan-of-the-future.
manfred marcus (Bolivia)
Pakistan remains a country where women are belittled and treated as second class citizens, and where speaking the truth about the injustices of it's system is dangerous. Pakistan's Primer Minister can and ought to do better...unless he is just a pawn of the powerful 'military' and religious fanatics trying to impose their will. Treating women badly, just because they want a better nation for their children, and themselves is ludicrous. Can't their government see they are shooting their own foot by disregarding at least half of their population's aspirations for some freedom and more justice?
Michael Green (Brooklyn)
Pakistan was founded on the same foundation as Israel. Muslim Indians needed a Muslim homeland. The result was to lift religious leaders above or to the top of secular government. As with all Judeo, Christian, and Islamic traditions, women are not granted social equality with men. If Pakistan had remained part of India, power of various religious sects would have been counter balanced. Women from across different religions could have formed alliances. Today the United States must choose between alienating Pakistan and pushing them toward China and the Russians or standing up for women's rights.
amir (london)
@Michael Green I take issue with your first 2 sentences. European Jews needed a homeland post an attempted genocide. Muslim Indians were not at all in the same boat. Yes, they would have been a minority in majority-Hindu India, but there was no suggestion at all that they would be the victims of a genocide. Remaining part of India was as viable an alternative as any other.
SFR (California)
@amir Amir, you are forgetting the slaughter of thousands of Muslims in India in the late 1940s. True, it was not officially organized, but many many died.
Azad (San Francisco)
The mayhem was initiated by Mr Jinnah the leader of Pakistan movement who called for direct action day. It resulted in great Calcutta killings which resulted in communal killings across North India Both Muslims and Hindus died in thousands
Gowan McAvity (White Plains)
When the law has become the excuse the ruling class (the military) uses to justify violence in order to enforce its will then the rule of law is broken. When broken it is difficult to mend. Laws become edicts. Democracies become tyrannies supported by propaganda fueled elections. Law-abiding citizens become mythical revolutionaries forced into hiding. Then the young are inspired by brave souls that change is in the air. Usually they are crushed. But if they are right, and the oppressors are overthrown, and the formerly oppressed seize the reins of power, what will they do when their laws are questioned and their culture of power is threatened? My guess is that they will eventually listen to the militarists, who somehow survived the last revolution (probably whispering over and over that security may only be found through the strength a well-funded military can provide). Then the righteous new leaders will convince themselves to twist their own laws in order to justify mowing down their own fellow citizens, while conveniently forgetting their own past talk about the rights of the people, because the people have suddenly become nothing more than dirty traitors threatening the peace bequeathed to the heroes of the nation (the military) by God and their illustrious forebears. And the cycle repeats.
Polyglot8 (Florida)
The Pashtuns were considered fierce warriors - innately violent and irredeemably tribal - first by the British, then by the Soviets, and now by the Americans. And yet one of the greatest pacifists, Bacha Khan, was a Pashtun. When I lived in Saudi Arabia, the company guard was a Pashtun - and he was the gentlest man I've ever known. And now I learn of the case of Ismail Gulalai. As with the Kurds, the Pashtuns should have their own country, carved out of the east of Afghanistan and Frontier Provinces of Pakistan - and then be left alone.
Ken Sayers (Atlanta, GA)
Governments around the world are flexing their muscles and opposing their people's wishes. Hong Kong, England, the U.S., Pakistan, is there no place safe for people anymore? I fear all the next wars will all be civil.
SFR (California)
@Ken Sayers There is no such thing as civil war.
Me (NC)
I was interested to read that she founded Aware Girls, which was the organization that inspired Malala...who won a Nobel Prize. This woman, a national treasure, is in fear for her life, which is exactly what happens in a country where it is a crime to criticize the government and its leaders. Hm, that sounds oddly familiar...
David Caines (Easton Pa)
I will state at the beginning of this that I am a huge fan of women's equality . That being said, perhaps..,just perhaps our nation would be better off if we stopped trying to force our opinions and beliefs down the throats of a world that doesn't want them. I would love to see this woman receive asylum here in America as she clearly represents the best of what it means to be a woman in a free nation. However, she and her opinions are clearly unwanted in her home nation and most of the nations in her region. She pits herself against cultures that are thousands of years old and that few within those nations wish to change . In her homeland she is a criminal and rightly so , while here she could safely provide a good example in a nation that is always looking for them. We as a people and a nation lack the moral authority with which to demand change of others , perhaps if we can finally get that , then people worldwide who oppose our beliefs and hold their own will stop trying to blow us up. I would love to see a world in which all women are treated equally, I guess I'm just old enough to realize that I have no right to enforce that belief on others who love their cultures as I love ours.
B. J. Combs (Sacramento, CA)
@David Cain well, I wonder if Dr. Martin Luther King would agree with you?
Tracy McCarthy (US)
@David Caines, Ms. Ismail is not waiting for your approval of her advocacy. She is a hero in her own right. Your equivocation re women’s rights tells me you may not be quite as supportive of them as you profess.
Carlton (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
@David Caines "However, she and her opinions are clearly unwanted in her home nation" Gee, if everyone followed that advice the world would be a really scary place for everyone but those currently in charge forever. Fortunately, their are people in this world who will not willingly submit to lifetime domination and subjugation and that's a good thing.
Jamyang (KansasCity)
Such allegations against the Pakistani military have been coming out for decades. Friends I know there have bemoaned the strangle hold of the military. If Pakistan wants foreign investment, it needs to reduce the grip of its military on civil life. It is no coincidence that the country has returned countless times to the IMF, and now lately to China, to fund its deficits, all the while the country fails to deal with the herd of elephants in the room, of which the military is the largest.
BSargent (Berlin, NH)
She needs to call Kim Kardashian, and have Kim call the President. The President is currently meeting with Prime Minister Kahn of Pakistan. Trump could tell Kahn to be nicer to Ms. Ismail. This is how our government works nowadays. Celebrity to celebrity and then the President's personal intervention. Trump, being a great supporter of women's rights, will certainly help. Right?
Joseph Ross Mayhew (Timberlea, Nova Scotia)
Its a sure thing that M. Trump won't make an issue of the many human rights violations that Pakistan is guilty of, during his visit... 'nuff said on that for now. However, it seems Ms. Ismail, courageous and fantastic as she is, may indeed have crossed a line she shouldn't have, by so closely affiliating herself with an organization the government is vigorously and violently trying to suppress. Her advocacy and outspoken, highly visible encouragement to women and girls in her country were becoming HIGHLY visible, and potentially very effective before she upped the ante and started waving red flags at government bulls, almost daring them to come after her with all they have. There is a reason that the phrase "Moderation in all things" is such a popular one... most of the time, it's correct: travel too far in any direction and you'll eventually discover trouble.
Tracy McCarthy (US)
@Joseph Ross Mayhew, it is also said that the nail which sticks up gets hammered down. Thankfully, the arc of history, American or otherwise, is filled with people who were not afraid to be an agent for change.
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