Pervez Musharraf claims he gave women their rights, but then mocks Bilawal Bhutto Zardari by calling him a “woman”

Published: January 4, 2018

Then he tried to deflect criticism on his earlier remarks by claiming that he was actually equating Bilawal to a transgender person or a “middleman”.

Bilawal jo nahre laga raha ke auraton ke tarah. Sub se pehley tu yeh keh aadmi ban ker dikhai aur phir  nahre lagwai.”

(Bilawal is raising slogans like a woman. First he should become a man and then raise such slogans.)

These lines from the latest video from General (retired) Pervez Musharraf really hit me hard. As of late, I am becoming used to Musharraf sprouting nonsense, but this was very uncouth and ill-considered and below his usually extremely low standards. After all, Mr Musharraf, the former dictator and Pakistani “educated” urban middle class’s favorite political leader after Imran Khan, has lately been uttering all kind of embarrassing statements.

Just a few weeks back, Musharraf proudly stated how much he likes Hafiz Saeed and how much of a supporter he is of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). In the process of declaring his admiration, he also inadvertently admitted that his so called “enlightened moderation” was nothing but a façade. In a recent interview, he also suggested that rogue elements within the state could be responsible for Benazir Bhutto’s murder, which was deeply embarrassing for the armed forces, who had to quickly give a response through the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR). He also suggested, in a recent interview, that Pakistan should assassinate “defectors” and “traitors” who are residing overseas.

All of the aforementioned examples show that despite being a former head of state, Musharraf is fully capable of giving thoughtless statements. But as mentioned before, this statement has even surpassed his earlier ones.

By mocking Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Musharraf has simply shown his medieval and chauvinistic mindset, which unfortunately is also the collective mindset of our society. I have pointed out before too that in our society, generally, masculinity is considered superior and is equated to valour, bravery and aggressiveness while femininity is equated to docility, vulnerability and cowardice. Due to negative framing of femininity, one of the ways to ridicule our opponents is to simply equate his actions with that of a woman. Since politics is always a contested arena with plenty of opponents, therefore this kind of ridiculing becomes pervasive in politics.

On social media, I have constantly come across images that have been altered by supporters of certain political parties such that the leaders of the opposition are hinted at as being ‘women’. For example, pictures of Nawaz Sharif, dressed like a female, mostly shared by supporters of Pakistan Tehreek -e- Insaf (PTI), are extremely common on Twitter and Facebook.

Kia Aap nay like kia mere marage ho gai hay sub ko share karo

Posted by Nawaz Sharif Funny Picture on Monday, June 20, 2016

Likewise, I have seen countless dubbings of Bilawal, which portray him as a woman or a transgender.

This is a sorry state of affairs because it shows that society on the whole thinks that the “best” way to humiliate a man is to call him a woman or a transgender. This attitude is the reflection of deep-rooted contempt for women in the society and shows that we really need to progress a lot with respect to the way we think about women and the transgender community.

One can argue that what Musharraf said is “normal” as this is the way our society thinks. However, while this misogynist attitude is reprehensible at the general level, it is even more disgusting when displayed by a former head of state who has always boasted of some kind of “enlightened moderation”.

Musharraf did not stop at merely mocking Bilawal as a woman. Later on, when pressed to explain his remarks, he went into a long winded response in which he boasted of giving women their rights and even took credit for the presence of women in the media. Then he tried to deflect criticism on his earlier remarks by claiming that he was actually equating Bilawal to a transgender person or a “middleman”.

In some ways, these subsequent remarks are even worse, for two reasons.

First, he tried to show that all the recent advancements in women’s liberation are only due to him, a highly condescending and patronising claim, which actually reinforces the image of women as helpless beings and trivialises the efforts of genuine feminists. Reema Omer, a prominent lawyer, in her tweet summed it up nicely.

Second, these remarks also humiliate the transgender community and try to show that Bilawal, since he is somehow like them (according to Musharraf), therefore he is worthy of contempt. These remarks show that Musharraf is basically devoid of even basic empathy.

While Musharraf accuses Bilawal of cowardice or fragility, let me humbly remind him, that he is right now sitting abroad and refusing to face courts on the pretext of some mysterious backache. Even his bitterest rival Nawaz, despite his shortcomings, has faced courts and is still here even after disqualification and despite the fact that verdict against him in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) reference may lead to imprisonment. While Musharraf accuses Bilawal of cowardice, he himself is afraid to come to Pakistan to face trial. I still remember the sight of the so called “commando” Musharraf fleeing from the court in 2013.

On the other hand, Bilawal, despite his youth has shown a lot of maturity and has bravely talked against extremism. Bilawal is in fact braver than Musharraf, who is cowardly sitting abroad and is also a self-confessed supporter of Saeed. In fact, increasingly, Musharraf is sounding like someone who is desperate for some kind of an audience. Nadeem Farooq Paracha summed Musharraf’s desperation well in the following tweet:

One can claim, and with some justification, that Bilawal was wrong to blame Musharraf as the murderer of his mother, in the way that he did during his speech. However, his opinion is shaped by the dubious circumstances in which Benazir was assassinated and also by the fact that there was apparently some sort of a cover up also. In addition, before her death, she had raised suspicion of foul play by Musharraf and in fact went to the extent of naming him as a murderer in case of her assassination.

Of course, this does not conclusively mean that Musharraf is the murderer and I think Bilawal should refrain from openly naming him as one. However, at the same time, it should be realised that there is a context which explains his accusations.

Musharraf should respond to him properly without resorting to sexist and misogynist statements.


Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Habib Canada

    If he is a Man, so called Mard, then come to Pakistan and face the court.Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    Enlightened commando.

    But the brain lights are turned off.Recommend

  • Muak Rules

    I think people who have a problem with Musharraf’s comment haven’t heard a phrase “Be a man”. This will be mocking if bilawal butto would be a girl and than he says “Bilawal are raising slogans like girls”. I guess men are suppose to be men.

    P.S Not Musharraf fan.Recommend

  • Abbas Raza

    Saying that to Bilawal is a mockery of women………
    Oh well politics…………. ratings matter …Recommend

  • Saadi

    Why come to Pakistan and face useless cases? What is in the cases? That he, as the President of Pakistan, ordered the killings of Bugti? Stupid cases to start off with that won’t stand in any court of law given the immunity that is granted to state leaders on matters of national security. Get off the populist naray baazi of having him face the courts. Anyone can get a case registered against anyone in Pakistan. It is a sheer waste of time to have these tackled by anyone but a lawyer on your behalf.Recommend

  • Salman Raheel

    Bilawal is known for not acting gender appropriate hence such words. No need to get all riled up. With such desperate & dramatic outbursts, you people are chucking away at your own cause of FemiNazism, because more and more people, who get to witness it are realizing not to pay any attention to the FemiNazi drivel, which has found a steady flow on Tribune’s blog.Recommend

  • greywolf

    asking someone to man up is not a mysogynistic statement, its a statement highlighting the differences that exists naturally between men and women. bilawal’s political amateurism is being highlighted by him dubbing musharraf without evidence the murderer of BB. is there any evidence of this? he should ‘man up’ and present evidence, stop being scared of his daddy-o and then we’ll talk. the author of this, clearly a fan of NS, cannot hide his bias.Recommend

  • Ahmer

    Not a fan of Musharraf, but I think he is not demeaning women. It would be kind of same if a girl acts like a man and is made fun of, not because men are something to be made fun of but because in our society, one is supposed to follow gender norms.

    One could argue that everyone should be free to act they way they want but realistically speaking, we are far from that level of freedom as a society.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    The guy was never a commando in practice but trained as one. He is responsible though for the murder of Bibi and the desecration of the Red Mosque.This article is the best from RHR who is most probably going to gain his Phd in 2018.
    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Humza

    Musharraf is the biggest joke around. A desperate officer who ruled illegally for nearly a decade and nearly destroyed the country until he was kicked out. Instead of knowing when to be quiet, he keeps making silly pronouncements to embarrass himself but he damages the reputation of the nation too. He is too much of a coward to face court cases against him and prefers to run away for so called medical treatment. A shame that his imaginary illness does not cause him to shut his mouth. He not only said disparaging things against women as a dictator, his trips to his family’s home in New Dehli, India is where he relearned about his opinion of women being second class citizens. Try saying behave like a man or be a man in any civilized country and see what happens to you. This is not the 1950s and it certainly is not India.Recommend

  • Manzoor Ahmed

    To call Bilawal a woman is an insult to women. InexcusableRecommend

  • Desi

    If you are a Man, so called Mard, then come to Pakistan, why live in Canada, face the challenges of every day Pakistani and endure all the hardships that every citizen of Pakistan goes through on his/her daily routine. Then only you can say something about Pakistan.Recommend

  • Phantom

    Your criticism of Musharaf is valid. However, you misconstrue that this is a problem with our society alone. Nay, this is a global issue where men feel insulted to be labeled as women. Localizing this issue is an insult to the cause.
    But you are right. Even if Bilawal does sound like his mother, it should not be used to insult him.
    Beyond that, however, I’m not sure what maturity and bravery bilawal has displayed. Lets call a spade a spade here. He is a privileged son of a ruling family towing the family line to further their foothold in Pakistani politics. Has bilawal spoken or done anything against the corruption within his party/family? The militant wings and the terror tactics they employ? No, that would actually require a high level of maturity and bravery.Recommend

  • Hasan

    Yes thats a politically incorrect approach by Mr. Musharraf. There are no men and women in this world, just people.Recommend

  • RHR

    Since this article pertains to Pakistan, therefore the word our society was used, However, you are correct to say that globally with varying degree, this is a common problem.

  • PatelPara

    are you still this ignorant?Recommend

  • PatelPara

    this is not demeaning women. ppl know the right meaning but media knows how to play. how pathetic!!

    so if I say be a man to an actual man what does that mean???

    whatever you think its all in your head!!Recommend

  • RHR

    When did Musharraf started to represent all of you? We!Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    He has publicly demeaned his mother for not expecting a leadership from this son? Your ignorance does not qualify you to question negative commentary.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • stevenson

    In what world do you live in ? Try using the phrase be a man in any western nation and you will lose your job. Just because Musharraf does, doesn’t mean other people in Pakistan need to talk like him!Recommend

  • Salman Khan

    Sometimes I surprise even myself. All I ever have to do is read the title and I know without a doubt that it was authored by the ever so persistent Raza Habib Raja. It’s quite mind boggling how someone can find faults in pretty much every political leader but still think Nawaz Sharif’s corruption should not immediately disqualify him and his party from politics or throw him in jail. (P.S, I don’t support Musharraf’s statement about Bilawal being feminine.)Recommend