| Malik Zafar Azam, law minister of the North West Frontier Province government, in Islamabad. (Reuters)
Islamabad, Aug 4: Pakistan's Supreme Court today blocked a proposal by an Islamist-controlled provincial government to introduce what critics say would be a Taliban-style judicial system enforced by religious police.
A nine-member bench of the Supreme Court, which heard the presidential reference against the Hasba or accountability bill for four days, declared at least five clauses of the bill as unconstitutional and urged the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) governor not to give his assent to the bill.
President Pervez Musharraf petitioned the top court for an opinion after the controversial bill was rushed through the NWFP Assembly last month. The bill is similar to the laws enforced by the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
President Pervez Musharraf sought the Supreme Court’s opinion on the bill that allows the provincial government to create a department for “promotion of virtue and prevention of vice”, headed by a cleric or Mohtasib.
The playing of music on public transport and display of female images on advertisements and cinema billboards is already banned in the province.
Dominated by the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulmai Islam (JUI), the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an alliance of religious Opposition parties, holds an absolute majority in the provincial legislature but occupies opposition benches in the federal legislature.
Reacting to the order, senior provincial minister Siraj-ul-Haq said the bill would be re-drafted and presented again in the provincial legislature after amending the five clauses. “We are democrats who believe in the supremacy of the judiciary,” Haq said.
However, the lawyer for the NWFP Assembly, Farooq Hassan, challenged the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction instructing the governor not to give his approval to the bill.
Hassan argued that under the Pakistan constitution, the governor was bound to approve any legislation passed by the provincial Assembly. “We will go for a review petition to determine the constitutionality or otherwise of the order,” he added.
The Hasba bill proposed powers for religious police to ensure observance of Islamic practices and values while curbing palm-reading and other superstitious customs.
The tussle over the Hasba bill is the latest in a long struggle between moderates and religious conservatives for the control of the nation’s future.