National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq has given his go ahead to the establishment of an ethics committee of the lower house to investigate the allegations of sexual harassment levelled by disgruntled Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) MNA Ayesha Gulalai against party chairman Imran Khan.

The committee is at once the right forum for this matter to be resolved as well as the wrong one. Allegations of sexual harassment at the workplace need to be handled in-house and disciplinary action taken by the institution if any wrongdoing is found – unless criminal charges are filed by the victim, bringing a court into the equation is not necessary. Furthermore, at the core of things, the Ayesha Gulalai allegations are an ethics issue not a legal one, although they do have the potential of being the latter if the transgressions are serious enough. A specialised committee formed to handle problems like this and other instances like the use of derogatory and sexist language, persistent disregard of parliamentary rules and conflicts between parliamentarians is a necessity for the government. Right now these issues are being duked out on the airwaves.

The composition of this committee however, can potentially make it the wrong forum. It will be staffed by the same parliamentarians who are often involved in unethical behaviour. On top of that, it is being set up on unbalanced bipartisan lines – 13 from the treasury and 7 from the opposition at the moment – which threatens to turn it into a political committee rather than a fact-finding one.

Will the parliamentarians have sufficient finesse and sensitivity to deal with issues like sexual harassment? Will they be able to vote against party lines, especially if their colleagues are on the podium? Will the disciplinary action be sufficiently stringent to deter future transgressions? Uncertain answers to these questions undercut the ability of this committee to function effectively – Ayesha Gulalai’s charged political case will be the test of its promise.