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Musharraf divides Oppn over Hudood

The Govt succeeded in dividing the Oppn ranks while introducing a controversial bill that seeks to amend the Hudood Ordinance.

india Updated: Aug 22, 2006 18:29 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

The Pakistan government succeeded in dividing the opposition ranks while introducing in the National Assembly a controversial bill that seeks to amend the Hudood Ordinance perceived as weighted against women.

Parties of the two exiled former prime ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who signed a "Charter of Democracy" in May this year to oust President Pervez Musharraf, took differing stands on the legislation.

But owing to reservations within its own ranks, the government conceded the demand of the moderates among the opposition ranks and referred the legislation, titled Protection of Women Bill, 2006, to a special committee of the house for a review and evolving a consensus before being debated.

President Pervez Musharraf, who annulled the law through an order early last month, has personally chaired meetings to iron out differences within the ruling alliance led by the Pakistan Muslim League (Qaid).

In the process, however, the legislation already stands watered down, media reports have indicated.

Musharraf's order has led to the release of most of an estimated 1,300 women jailed indefinitely across the country for petty crimes.

However, it has angered the conservatives and Islamist parties that see it as an attempt to change laws prescribed by the Holy Quran.

The laws were actually introduced in 1979 by Zia-ul Haq as part of his Islamisation drive.

The name "Hudood Ordinance" has stuck in the public debate. "Hudood" in Arabic is plural of "Hud", meaning punishment. The law also covers "Zina", pertaining to sex-related crimes.

The legislation has already acquired political overtones since the opposition parties are questioning the timing of its introduction, alleging that this is meant to divide their ranks.

Though Musharraf has been in office since 1999, why has he chosen to bring the legislation now?

The opposition members sought an answer to this question during the two-hour rumpus that accompanied the introduction of the bill by Law Minister Wasi Zafar.

During the protests, "Allah-o-Akbar" was chanted and copies of the legislation were torn by angry members of the right-wing Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).

Its members surrounded Speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain's chair shouting slogans, The News said.

MMA leaders, including Maulana Fazlur Rahman, the leader of the opposition, vowed to oppose the legislation. Rahman said he would not allow "anyone in the GHQ" to change the laws enacted as per the tenets laid down by the Quran.

The reference to "anyone in the GHQ (General Headquarters)" was obviously to Musharraf, who remains army chief and has said that he was doing so "in national interest" and that he would decide when he should shed the military uniform.

Significantly, the MMA found support from former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz).

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan (PML-N) said his party's point of view on the issue was close to MMA's as it did not want any change in laws ordained by Allah in the Quran.

Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) was relatively passive, saying it did not oppose the legislation, but wanted it to be referred to a special committee of the house. The News said its members "remained seated as silent spectators".

It said the opposition unity was put to test when Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sher Afgan Khan Niazi moved a motion for the setting up of a select committee, which was approved by a majority.

The MMA, however, opposed the composition of the proposed committee and staged a walkout in protest.

A woman member of the treasury benches, Khursheed Afgan, went to the opposition benches to protest the tearing down of copies of the bill carrying the word Holy Quran.

She had a hot exchange with Fazlur Rehman even as the speaker asked other treasury members to restrain her.

First Published: Aug 22, 2006 14:17 IST

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