Pakistan province votes to enforce Islamic law. By Javed Aziz


PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - The parliament of a Pakistani province bordering Afghanistan passed a bill Monday to implement sharia, or Islamic law, and its chief minister said those who failed to observe it were not welcome.

The bill was approved by the assembly of North West Frontier Province, which became the only Pakistani province to take such a step on sharia.

The assembly is dominated by the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a six-party Islamic alliance accused by rights groups of trying to emulate Afghanistan's former Taliban regime.

"From today, sharia law will be implemented in the province and there will be no place in the province for those who refuse to follow it," Akram Durrani, the province's chief minister, told the assembly.

Under sharia law, judgments are reached based on Islamic teachings and punishments can be severe, including amputations of hands for theft and stoning to death for adultery.

In an interview with Reuters, provincial Law Minister Zafar Azam declined to clarify what the move might entail.

But an assembly official said a commission would be established to examine existing laws and bring them into line with sharia, including its ban on interest-based loans.

Azam said the provincial government would introduce a new bill Tuesday to set up a Hasba (or accountability) Department to promote religious observance, which critics say is modeled on the Taliban's notorious religious police.

Saturday, the provincial government passed a directive ordering civil servants to pray five times a day and urging businesses to close at prayer times. It warned of unspecified action against those who failed to obey.

Muslims are expected to pray five times a day, but this is not compulsory for government employees elsewhere in Pakistan, even though it is an Islamic state.

The NWFP came under the control of the Islamic MMA after October elections critics say were manipulated by military President Pervez Musharraf to keep mainstream parties sidelined.

Saturday's prayer order follows curbs on the sale of music and videos, destruction of posters featuring women and advertising Western products, and the imposition of a complete ban on alcohol in the NWFP.

The MMA has also banned music on public transport, medical examinations of women by male doctors, male coaches for women athletes and male journalists from covering women's sports.

Such moves are reminiscent of the religious fundamentalism of the Taliban in Afghanistan, which was overthrown in late 2001 by a U.S.-led military campaign.

Some MMA members were close supporters of the Taliban.

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