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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 June, 2003, 10:32 GMT 11:32 UK
Pakistan's Sharia law criticised
People have been tearing down adverts featuring women and Western products
Anti-Western sentiment is running high in the province
Human rights groups have condemned moves by legislators in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province to introduce Islamic law.

On Monday, the provincial assembly passed a bill introducing Sharia law in the region, which borders 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.

It proposes restricting the rights of women, and calls for education and financial systems to be brought into line with the teachings of the Koran.

Critics fear a re-run of life under the Taleban, the Islamic hardliners who ruled Afghanistan and drove women and girls out of jobs and schools, back into their homes.

God is great! God is great!
Ruling party members after vote

Supporters say all they are trying to do is to curb obscenity and protect human decency.

The head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Afrasiab Khattak, says the move is pushing Pakistani society towards religious totalitarianism.

He accused the pro-Islamist coalition that runs North-West Frontier Province of trying to impose a system similar to that of the Taleban.

Perviz Rafiq, a senior official of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, says he fears the new law would be used to persecute minorities.

"Religion should not interfere with the political affairs of the country," he told the Associated Press.

Since taking power last October the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) ruling alliance in the province has introduced a number of changes.

Laws have been brought in banning the examination of women by male doctors and forbidding men from coaching women athletes.

The MMA have also ordered civil servants to pray five times a day and curbed the sale of music and videos.

Women's rights

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

Meraj Humayun Khan, NGO worker


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

Details of the law are vague but observers say 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 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 North West Frontier Province last October.

What's in the bill
No interest payments in banks
More Islamic studies in schools
Administration to be subject to Islamic law
Drive against 'obscenity and vagrancy'
Ban on the display of firearms

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

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

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.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Paul Anderson
"Many people welcome the introduction of Sharia law, but by no means all"



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