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Last Updated: Monday, 2 June, 2003, 17:14 GMT 18:14 UK
Sharia law for Pakistan province
People have been tearing down adverts featuring women and Western products
Anti-Western sentiment is running high in the province
Legislators in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province have passed a bill introducing Islamic Sharia law in the region bordering Afghanistan.

It is the first time the strict code, based upon the teachings of the Koran, has been in force in Pakistan in the country's history.

The bill gives Sharia precedence over secular provincial law and stipulates that every Muslim will be bound by it.

God is great! God is great!
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Critics fear a re-run of the Taleban, the Islamic hardliners who ruled neighbouring Afghanistan and drove women and girls out of jobs and schools, back into their homes.

Supporters of the move, however, say all they are trying to do is to curb obscenity and protect human decency.

Women's rights

The bill was passed unanimously by members of the provincial assembly, which is dominated by hardliners.

"We should have the freedom to decide whether we need to work or not."

Meraj Humayun Khan, NGO worker

Details of the law are vague but it sets the tone for the type of rule the province's people can expect.

Opposition parties tried to water down some of the bill's provisions, including those concerning women's rights, but withdrew amendments in the face of overwhelming odds.

The bill still needs the signature of the provincial governor to become law. Analysts say that is a formality.

The planned creation of a Department of Vice and Virtue has prompted concern among some people who recall pictures of the Taleban vice squads dispensing summary justice in Afghanistan.

Hardliners have been cracking down on activities they consider un-Islamic since they swept to power in the province last October.

Several cinemas have been closed down, and musicians have complained of harassment.

The BBC's Paul Anderson in Islamabad says radicals in an alliance of Islamic parties are already using their ideals of Islamic purity and justice as bargaining chips in negotiations with the government to end a constitutional crisis.

Unease in Islamabad

Many people in North-West Frontier Province have close ideological ties to the Taleban.

Pakistan's federal law enforcers have little jurisdiction over the area, which is more strictly conservative than other parts of the country.

But many opponents say the law is unclear and there is nothing new in it.

Some principles of the bill are already enshrined in the preamble of the Pakistani constitution.

Analysts say President Musharraf will be watching events with some discomfort.

He is keen to convince his Western allies that Pakistan is an ally in the war against terrorism, nor part of the problem.

The BBC's Zaffar Abbas
"They also plan to introduce a system called vice and virtue"

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