ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Friday backed a parliamentary investigation into allegations of sexual harassment leveled by a female lawmaker against firebrand opposition leader Imran Khan, in a scandal that has gripped the country.
The scandal erupted after Ayesha Gulalai, a National Assembly member from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, accused Khan and other leaders of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of sending obscene text messages and promoting a culture of sexism.
The accusations come days after Pakistan´s top court disqualified Khan´s long-time political nemesis Nawaz Sharif from the premiership on corruption charges, spurring public celebrations from the cricketer-turned-politician and his supporters.
Newly-elected Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, seen as a Sharif loyalist, on Friday backed moves to form a parliamentary committee to investigate the matter after a group of legislators raised the allegations in the house.
“This is an issue concerning the house´s integrity — I will suggest forming a closed-door, special committee to probe the allegations and present its findings in the house,” Abbasi told parliament.
In a televised press conference earlier this week Gulalai accused Khan of harassing female leaders in the PTI and resigned from the party.
“Imran Khan´s list of sins is very long but the way he sends obscene text messages — and the way women and girls are being treated in this party, I will say that the honour of women is not safe, because of Imran Khan and because of the people around him,” Gulalai told reporters in Islamabad.
“I cannot compromise my integrity and that´s why I decided to take this step,” she added.
Gulalai has not released any of the alleged text messages, prompting many in Pakistan to believe the case may be politically motivated.
Khan, along with the PTI´s top brass, batted down the allegations, accusing Sharif´s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of using money to defame political rivals.
“I was astonished to hear that. I suspect that the (PML-N) has used her against me,” Khan said in a TV interview.
“Do your worst; stoop as low as you can; me & my struggle-hardened party will become ever stronger IA,” Khan wrote on Twitter.
The accusations evoked a social media storm and provoked a debate on sexual harassment in Pakistan, with Khan´s opponents accusing him of promoting Western values while others called for acid attacks targeting Gulalai, according to news reports.
The backlash targeting Gulalai in particular provoked criticism from women´s rights activists, who said the claims should be investigated rather than met with threats of violence, particularly in a country where women have struggled for their rights for decades.