Pakistan 'moral laws' spark row

Karachi, Pakistan - A controversial new law critics say will seek Taleban-style moral policing has been presented in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province.

The bill would see the introduction of a moral police force to ensure strict adherence to Islamic injunctions.

It was tabled amid deafening shouts of disapproval from opposition parties who have vowed to resist it.

However, hardline religious parties have enough seats in the provincial house to pass the bill.

Calling the proposed law "Taleban-style extremism", angry opposition politicians threw copies of the proposed legislation in the air to register their protest.

The proposed law calls for the establishment of a new department to "discourage vice and encourage virtue."


The BBC's Aamer Ahmed Khan in Karachi says that in effect, a new office will be set up along the lines of the office of the ombudsman, at provincial as well as district level.

It will be headed by a cleric called "mohtasib" - one who holds others accountable - to be nominated by the government.

The principal duty of the cleric will be to "ensure adherence to Islamic values in public places".

According to a draft of the bill, the mohtasib will be required to ensure people pay adequate respect to azan (call to prayers), pray on time and do not engage in commerce at the time of Friday prayers.

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

The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), Pakistan's six-party religious alliance which is in power in North-West Frontier Province, says it was mandated by the people in the 2002 elections to bring in such laws.

However, the president of Pakistan's ruling party, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, called it "unconstitutional".

He warned that it would lead to confrontation between Islamabad and the provincial governments.

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

Afghanistan's former ruling Taleban initiated a "vice and virtue" department in Kabul which became the focus of criticism from human rights organisations.

It is not yet clear when the North-West Frontier Province assembly will vote on the bill.

Observers believe that, barring direct intervention from Islamabad, the bill is highly likely to pass into law.

Legal experts say it is not clear what options are available to the federal government for stopping the bill.