KARACHI — Khushboo Rafiq is the first person in her family not to pay a dowry, or bride price, to her husband Usman's family.
Khushboo works for an organization that advocates women's rights. It was very important to her that her wedding represents the ideals and convictions on which she spends her professional efforts."
We used the wedding invitation to tell guests they should not bring any gifts," she says. "We also made it very clear that no dowry was being paid. We also are donating our wedding dress to a charity for another couple to use in the future."
She says that though the practice is illegal in the country, most of her friends' families pay dowries to their prospective husbands.
"My cousin's marriage cost them $1,000 in dowry," she says. "But I categorically refused to follow obsolete traditions like a huge dowry, expensive jewelry and a lavish feast. My friends said it would be a miracle if my in-laws accepted my demands. But they did."
Though it is common practice, giving a dowry exceeding $50 is an offense under Pakistan's Dowry and Bridal Gifts Act, passed in 1976.
Other legalities imposed on weddings are also often ignored. For example, according to custom, there should only be one dish served at the wedding feast. Though breaking the law can lead to six months in jail, doing otherwise is deeply ingrained in the Pakistani culture.
Zakia Sultana, the bride's mother, says many of the guests are amazed that their family has decided to follow the law. "This wedding is the topic of discussion at today’s gathering," she says. "I faced opposition from my family and friends, who said a marriage cannot be performed without a dowry. Later, they agreed. Things are starting to change, and people will follow this example."
Because of the traditional dowry system, many middle-class young women don't get married because their parents cannot afford it. Thousands of others face emotional and physical torture at the hands of their in-laws, often because they are dissatisfied with the dowry. Many women are kicked out of their homes and divorced by their husbands.
Hina Mujeeb is employed at the same organization as the bride, and is working to end the practice. "The custom of dowry is brutal," Mujeeb says. "Some parents have to sell their houses or get loans to arrange the dowry. To change the mindset, we have formed this group. We will not accept or pay a dowry. That's the way we want to create change.”
Zahid Ghani, the groom's brother, agrees. "There are some people who are not happy with today's wedding," he says. "But this has not stopped us. Asking for the dowry is just like bargaining in the market for goods. My wife's parents have already raised their daughters and paid for her education. I can't ask for more."
Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.
MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative
These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."
In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."
The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.
Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.
NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.
"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.
The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."
Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."
The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.
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