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Last Updated: Friday, 15 July, 2005, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Musharraf acts on 'Taleban law'
Legislators in the NWFP assembly
NWFP legislators say they have popular backing for the law
Pakistan's federal government has begun moves to overturn a law introducing a Taleban-style moral code in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

President Pervez Musharraf has asked the Supreme Court to declare the new law unconstitutional and a breach of people's fundamental rights.

The law includes measures to ensure people respect calls to prayer and to discourage singing and dancing.

The NWFP government says it was mandated to pass the law when elected.

Vice and Virtue

"This law encroaches upon the constitution and it violated the fundamental rights of the people," Attorney-General Makhdoom Ali Khan said in documents sent on Friday to the Supreme Court in Islamabad.

Mr Khan was acting on behalf of President Musharraf.

Maulana Fazlur Rahman, head of the religious MMA alliance
A new watchdog will monitor people's "moral behaviour"

The court is due to begin hearing the case on 25 July.

It is also being asked to determine if the law would create a parallel judicial system in NWFP.

The controversial Hisba (Accountability) law was passed by the NWFP assembly on Thursday with 68 votes in favour and 34 against.

Under the new law, an Islamic watchdog will monitor the observance of Islamic values in public places in NWFP.

The plan is reminiscent of the infamous Department of Vice and Virtue, set up by the Taleban regime in Afghanistan.

The passage of the bill followed a heated debate between the ruling conservative six-party religious alliance Mutahida Majlis Amal (MMA) and the opposition.

'People's mandate'

Under the new law, the principal duty of the cleric, called "mohtasib" - one who holds other accountable - will be to ensure people respect the call to prayers, pray on time and do not engage in commerce at the time of Friday prayers.

He will also stop unrelated men and women from appearing in public places together, and discourage singing and dancing.

President Musharraf
President Musharraf says that the bill breaches fundamental rights

One of his tasks will be to monitor the media to ensure "publications are useful for the promotion of Islamic values".

The Minister of State for Information, Anisa Zeb Tahir Kheli, told the BBC, the government would not allow any such law to be imposed which would project a negative image of the country abroad particularly in the West.

Correspondents say the controversy over the bill could well boost support for the MMA ahead of local elections in August.

The opposition Pakistan Peoples Party called it an "obscurantist pipedream" and an attempt to "Talebanise" Pakistan.

But the MMA says it won popular backing for the law when it won elections in the province in 2002.

The Department of Vice and Virtue set up by Afghanistan's former ruling Taleban became the focus of criticism from human rights organisations.

Pakistan 'moral laws' spark row
11 Jul 05 |  South Asia

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