Outside the Markaz-e-Islami, the provincial headquarters for
extremist groups and parties, hundreds of bearded, turbaned men
leaped in the air, stuffing traditional sweets into each other's
mouths amid hugs and embraces.
They were celebrating the passage of sharia, or Islamic law, last
week in Pakistan's rugged Northwest Frontier Province, where an
alliance of Islamic extremist parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal
(MMA), have ruled since last year.
But in Islamabad, some 120 miles from here, the same news
triggered fears of a Taliban-style insurgency along the treacherous
border with Afghanistan. In response, the central government fired
two top officials in the frontier province, including the head of
Pakistan's mullahs have always been ideological allies of
Afghanistan's former brutal regimen. After Sept. 11, they expressed
their solidarity with protests and subsequently rode into power by
capitalizing on anti-US sentiments.
"I have nightmares," says Rakhshanda Naz, an activist with Aurat
Foundation, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Peshawar. "[The
mullahs here] have always idealized the Taliban. Now they want to
suppress women and force people to live according to the mullah
But proponents of the bill insist that Pakistan's brand of
Islamic law is different.
"We want to create an atmosphere where every Muslim abides by
Islamic laws, enabling us to establish a true Islamic welfare state
first in the frontier and then gradually in the whole country," says
Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman, head of the powerful Jamiat-e Ulema Islam
party and a senior leader of the MMA. "The Taliban ... was an ideal
Islamic system, but they were trying to implement it by force. But
here in Pakistan, we are trying to bring about an Islamic revolution
in accordance with the wishes of the people who voted for us."
In many ways, the new bill, which does not apply to non-Muslim
minorities, resembles the Taliban style of Islam. Prayers are now
mandatory in schools, shopping malls, and government offices, Friday
(the Muslim Sabbath) has replaced Sunday as the weekly holiday, and
women will be forced to attend separate educational institutions.
In addition, legislators belonging to the ruling Islamic parties
have announced that purdah, a head scarf, is mandatory for all
women; that medical tests for women, including ultrasounds and X-
rays, should be conducted by female health workers; and that female
athletes should not be trained by male coaches.
The ruling parties also have plans to propose a hisbah, or
accountability, act that would support the creation of a religious
police force along the lines of the the Taliban's Ministry for the
Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. With the Islamic
coalition holding a two-thirds majority in the provincial assembly,
the law is likely to be passed. …