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Musharraf to assure Bush on women's bill

The conservatives and the opposition parties in Pakistan accuse Musharraf of pushing through the bill under American pressure.

india Updated: Sep 18, 2006 15:57 IST

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf plans to remove "misperceptions" about the women's rights bill during his meeting with US President George W Bush slated for Friday.

The watered down provisions of the bill are being vehemently criticised by rights groups in Pakistan.

Musharraf told the media in New York that he would seek to remove "misperceptions and apprehensions in the Western world" about the bill and that his government was not backtracking on the women's rights issue.

"What we are doing is to reach an agreed solution," he said.

Civil society organisations in Pakistan have accused the government of dragging its feet and striking a deal with the Islamist political alliance, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), on some of the provisions.

The conservatives and the opposition parties in Pakistan accuse Musharraf of pushing through the bill under American pressure.

MMA deputy parliamentary leader Hussain Hafeez Ahmed, in a tongue-in-cheek statement to Dawn newspaper, said: "Musharraf will have to come back without being able to show to the US administration his achievement on getting the bill passed".

Rights groups have demanded that the controversial Hudood Ordinances be repealed altogether since the bill seeking to amend them had been politicised and its provisions watered down.

The Hudood set of laws was promulgated in 1979 by then dictator Zia-ul Haq as part of the Islamisation drive.

Hudood is plural for 'Hud' meaning to punish in Arabic.

Reporting on the behind-the-scenes parleys among political leaders, Dawn on Monday said that the government was uncertain about re-introducing the bill since the MMA had not agreed to even the changes made by a committee of clergy constituted outside of parliament.

The rights bodies condemned the MMA. They said that the clergy responsible for bringing in the Hudood Ordinances in the first place were working to get back some of the provisions that were proposed to be dropped, in the penal code.

"It is disgraceful," Dr Farzana Bari, a leading women's rights activist, told a news conference.

Among others attending the conference were Naim Mirza of Aurat Foundation, Robina Saigal of Actionaid, Samina Khan of Sungi Development Foundation, Saba Gul Khattak of Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and representatives of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Doubtful about the intentions of the government and parliament, they urged the Supreme Court to take note of the course the bill was taking, The Nation newspaper said.

According to Dawn, Musharraf, at whose initiative the entire exercise was being undertaken, would have to return from his foreign tour to see the exercise through.

Musharraf had on July 1 issued an order enabling the release of an estimated 1,300 women held indefinitely under the provisions of the Hudood, according to which no bail is allowed for even petty crimes.

The president had personally chaired parliamentary committee meetings to iron out differences within the government on the bill, but its introduction was stalled.

The Pakistani media has reported in detail the political bargaining the government had entered into with the MMA over the bill.

The bill has led to a divide among the conservatives and liberals within the government and also among political parties. Women in each of these segments are in minority and have failed to get their voices heard.

First Published: Sep 18, 2006 14:19 IST