The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Second thoughts on Shariat bill

Peshawar, Aug 20: Following weeks of defiance over the Shariat bill, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) alliance in the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) is having second thoughts.

After pushing the bill through the mullah-dominated NWFP Assembly in June, the MMA has become defensive. Chief minister Muhammad Akram Durrani, a lawyer-turned politician from Bannu district of NWFP, says the drive to spread their version of Islam has been misunderstood.

“The attempt is far from what the Taliban practised and has not been understood in the MMA perspective. Enforcement of the Shariat was our election promise and we had to satisfy our constituents once we were in power,” Durrani told The Telegraph at his Peshawar office.

The MMA, the second largest group in the National Assembly, is ruling NWFP on its own and is a coalition partner in the Baluchistan government. Both provinces border Afghanistan and had served as nurseries for the Taliban.

Soon after the passage of the Shariat bill, film billboards with pictures of women were torn down, musical programmes banned and the Nishtar Hall, famous for cultural events in the heart of Peshawar, were closed.

Despite the alliance’s repeated criticisms, the Shariat incidents was used in a bid to malign the MMA government, Durrani said.

To make matters worse, the alliance closed down a crisis centre run by a non-governmental organisation, the Aurat Foundation. The centre was built with the financial support of the German government for destitute women. It has since been moved to another location.

“We did not order the closure of the project. We only asked them to relocate to another place of their choice,” Durrani said while defending the closure of the crisis centre.

Despite the statement, Durrani’s government seems determined to pursue the Islamic drive and is contemplating tabling of another bill, called the Hasba (accountability) Act, aimed at eliminating corruption from state institutions.

“People are portraying a wrong picture of the Hasba Act. It is meant to take some of the cases off an overburdened judiciary where thousands of cases are pending,” Durrani said.

The NWFP government intends to establish a department for the prevention of vice to pave the way for decisions on different cases. “It will be like a jirga (a meeting of elders) with a mandate to promote reconciliation but it will not certainly be like what the Taliban followed,” Durrani asserted and explained that journalists, district coordination officers and senior police officials would be co-opted as members of the department.

“We will also utilise police personnel as the Hasba force,” he said while dispelling the earlier impression that the Hasba force would comprise members of the MMA’s component parties. One reason for the MMA’s defensive posture on the spread of their version of Islamic rule, could possibly be the strong reaction that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf faced during his recent visit to London, Washington, Berlin and Paris.

On more than one occasion, Musharraf had vowed that the government would not allow Pakistan society to follow the Taliban version of Islam and would deal sternly with extremist elements.

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