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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 July, 2004, 15:17 GMT 16:17 UK
Protest at Pakistan Sharia plans
By Paul Anderson
BBC correspondent in Islamabad

Legislators in the NWFP assembly
The MMA says Hisbah will lead to a more pure and just society
Secular politicians in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province are protesting at an extension of Sharia law they say will "Talebanise" society.

The Islamic alliance that runs the province is preparing the Hisbah bill, which would enshrine observance of strict Islamic codes in people's lives.

Supporters say it will curb corruption and root out social evils.

Opponents call it the "Mullah martial law" and say vice and virtue police will intrude in people's private lives.

They have already staged a protest meeting against the promised introduction of the bill.

They say the bill sets up a new policing and legal mechanism outside of civil law and that it amounts to the Talebanisation of society.

Ombudsman

The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), the governing alliance of radical religious parties, launched the Hisbah bill in the provincial capital, Peshawar, on Sunday.

Pro-Sharia protesters in NWFP
The province has clamped down on images deemed un-Islamic

The MMA says it will lead to a more pure and just society.

The governing coalition promised after it introduced Sharia law late last year to follow through with tougher legislation to correct the ills of society as it saw them.

At the heart of Hisbah, say supporters, is a new system to redress corrupt and unjust practices in government and to promote virtue and root out social evil, according to the teachings of Islam.

A new Islamic ombudsman will be appointed.

He will stand at the head of a legal system with dedicated police forces in which convicted transgressors of the Islamic way of life could be jailed for up to six months.

Opponents from secular political parties say it will create a system of parallel justice and echo the Ministry for the Suppression of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue in the Taleban-run Afghanistan.

The debate is at an early stage.

Leaders from both sides are sounding out public opinion.

No date has been set for the bill's introduction to the provincial assembly but it is expected in the coming months.

By that time, the federal authorities will doubtless have become involved in what promises to be a bitter fight between opposing camps.


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