Pakistan: The perils of attempting Hudood reform. By Elizabeth Kendal


AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- In 1979 Pakistan`s military dictator Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq launched his program to Islamise Pakistan. The first step was the introduction of Hudood Ordinance. In 1984, as pressure intensified for an end military rule, Zia played the religion card for political gain to dragnet Muslim votes and get himself a mandate to pursue Islamisation and remain president. Today, Pakistan is endeavouring to join the prosperous modern world, and President Musharraf is supposedly promoting "enlightened moderation". In line with these goals, the parliament is keen to expunge from Pakistan one of its most sickly, ugly blights: Hudood Ordinance. However, while the Sharia seed is easy to plant, and the Sharia plant is easy to feed, the Sharia tree is not easily removed. Western politicians who think that in a democracy a majority is required to effect change, should consider the power of Pakistan`s Islamist minority. The Islamist Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) are proving once again there is none so powerful as he who holds the balance of power (especially if he is willing to incite violence and destabilise the nation in order to have his way). Western politicians who are flirting with Islamists and considering permitting the implementation of elements of Sharia as a concession, should consider Pakistan`s reality as a warning. Sow Sharia for short term political gain, and it cannot be removed or even rolled back without immense trouble to the nation, pain, sacrifice and bloodshed. THE PERILS OF ATTEMPTING HUDOOD REFORM Under the Hudood code, a man and woman found guilty of having sex outside of marriage can be sentenced to death by stoning or 100 lashes. To prove rape, a woman must produce four adult male Muslim eye-witnesses to confirm her testimony; without that she will be found guilty of illicit sex. This leaves Christian women especially vulnerable. In fact, in such an environment, those who rape Christian women are virtually guaranteed impunity. It is estimated that around 80 percent of all women imprisoned in Pakistan are there on Hudood offences. On 1 July President Musharraf issued an order enabling the release of an estimated 1,300 women held indefinitely in Pakistani prisons under the provision of the Hudood Ordinance. The "Women`s Protection Bill 2006", drafted by a parliamentary select committee, was to be tabled in Pakistan`s parliament in early August. However, objections by cabinet members and religious parties saw it delayed until Monday 21 August. This was the third time the Bill had been presented to the parliament. The draft Bill protects women by separating rape from consensual sex outside marriage, eliminating the four-witness requirement to prove rape, establishing that rape cases be tried in civil rather than religious courts, and by requiring that four witnesses be presented to prove adultery. Human rights groups are of course calling for the Hudood Ordinance to be repealed rather than amended. Islam Online describes the impact of the Bill on the parliament and the Islamist response: "The introduction of the bill by the government on Monday, August 21, witnessed the worst pandemonium in Pakistani parliament. Opposition lawmakers shouted slogans against the government, tore up copies of the amendments and walked out. They accused President Pervez Musharraf of being a traitor and a friend of America." (Link 1) Actually the Islamist Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) came close to being charged with blasphemy for tearing up copies of the Bill, because as its supporters noted, the Bill contained Quranic texts. (Link 2) According to Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afgan, Pakistan People`s Party (PPP) representatives who sat on the parliamentary select committee were under clear instruction from their exiled leader, Benazir Bhutto, to give their support to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML) in its efforts to amend the Hudood laws. Even though the Women`s Protection Bill had clear majority support to pass in the parliament, the Bill was scuttled due to the MMA`s threat to resign en masse, thus massively destabilising Pakistan`s already restive MMA-ruled western provinces, if the Bill was passed. The MMA threat split the ruling PML. The reformists in the PML wanted to press ahead with reform, while the conservatives, led by PML president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain asserted that it would be political suicide for the PML to alienate its MMA partners and their Islamist constituents before the 2007 elections. In early September the government moved to appease the Islamists by appointing an extra-parliamentary committee that included four MPs from the MMA as well as Islamic religious scholars to review the Bill and recommend a compromise. The BBC reports that the extra-parliamentary committee determined "that rape should fall under both religious and secular law. It introduced a new, very broadly defined, category of `lewdness` into the penal code, and reinstated a clause giving the Hudood Ordinances pre-eminence over any law with which they might come into conflict." (Link 3) On Monday 11 September the government announced that it was accepting three of the conservatives` demands, including one keeping rape under the Islamic law, although it will also be a crime under the penal code. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) rejected the amendments outright. Sources told Pakistan`s English-language newspaper "Dawn", "The PML, riven by internal disputes, preferred an awkward embrace with the MMA to a brief handshake with the PPP." An MP who wished to remain anonymous bemoaned the back-down saying, "And what have we gained by allowing the MMA to water down the amendments to the Hudood laws? The PPP is up in arms. Our touchy coalition partner, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, is on the warpath. And human rights organisations are pouring scorn on us.`" (Link 4) The government – at least its reformist faction – bolstered by MQM and PPP support, have vowed to reintroduce the Women`s Protection Bill to the parliament for the fourth time, in its original form – the form hailed by NGOs and human rights groups – when President Musharraf returns from his visit to the USA. Meanwhile, Alt.Muslim reports that on Wednesday 23 August (2 days after the Bill was tabled in parliament) militants on a motorbike ambushed Manzoor-ul-Hassan as he left his office, and shot him through the mouth leaving him critically wounded. Manzoor-ul-Hassan is the editor of "Ishra", the monthly magazine of a leading Pakistani think-tank, Al-Mawrid Research Institute, which advocates equity, fairness and gender equality in Pakistan`s Islamic Laws. (Link 5) Sharia is never rolled back without bloodshed. This is the reality in Pakistan. This is a warning for the West.

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