Friday, June 6, 2003

Pakistan: Islamisation or dictatorship or both?

Date: Friday 6 June 2003
Subj: Pakistan: Islamisation or dictatorship or both?
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


Pakistan's central government and the Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of six pro-Sharia, pro-Taliban Islamist parties who rule the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and hold the balance of power in the National Assembly, are on a collision course. However, President Musharraf and the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Quid-e-Azam (PML-Q) need MMA support in order to break the political deadlock, over President Musharraf's 'Legal Framework Order' (LFO) that President Musharraf issued in by decree before that last election. The situation opens the door for the MMA to use their own Islamisation and Constitutional amendments package as political leverage.

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THE MMA AND THE BALANCE OF POWER

On 21 August 2002, before the 10 October 2002 elections, President Musharraf announced that he had issued a decree - the Legal Framework Order - that amended the constitution, giving him sweeping powers to sack a prime minister, dissolve parliament and set up a National Security Council, on which four military chiefs and eight civilian political leaders would sit, and which he, as president, would head, giving the armed forces a permanent role in the country's governance.

All opposition parties, including the Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), opposed the Legal Framework Order (LFO). However, the October 2002 election resulted in the pro-Musharraf party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quid-e-Azam (PML-Q) winning the largest number of seats. The opposition accuses Musharraf of manipulating the poll by passing laws blocking Mr Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N and his fellow exiled former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto of the PPP, from returning to power on the grounds they have served twice before as prime minister.

In spite of the fact that the Pakistan Muslim League-Quid-e-Azam (PML-Q) won the most seats, they did not win enough to govern outright. The result was a hung parliament. Of the 324 seats in the National Assembly, Musharraf's PML-Q now holds 118, Bhutto's PPP holds 81 and the MMA secured an astonishing 60 seats enabling the MMA to hold the balance of power.

By early November, a coalition had formed between all those parties opposed to Musharraf's constitutional changes (the LFO). On 11 November however, Musharraf met with the MMA vice president, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, for over two hours. Mr Ahmed told President Musharraf that the MMA was ready to accept him as president if he took back his constitutional package (LFO) and left the post of the Chief of the Army. Musharraf would not accept. Yet - by 13 November 2002, the MMA and the pro-Musharraf PML-Q had "narrowed their differences" and the MMA was agreeing to be "flexible". This paved the way for a PML-Q / MMA coalition government to be formed.

THE VALUE OF LEVERAGE

To this day however, the constitutional issues have not been resolved and there is debate about whether the constitutional amendments made by the Legal Framework Order (LFO) are valid. On top of this, the MMA, which rules the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in its own right (holding 68 of the 124 seats) has, as of Monday 2 June, officially adopted Sharia law in NWFP. They have also passed the Hasba Act that enables them to establish a Department of Vice and Virtue, Taliban-style. Militant youths are pulling down billboards, trashing music stores and wreaking havoc across the NWFP. All 24 local governors - 'nazims' - have handed in their resignations to President Musharraf. Musharraf has responded by sacking the NWFP's chief secretary and inspector general of police over their enforcement of Sharia. This has put the NWFP, MMA government on a collision course with the pro-West central government.

All the meanwhile, the PML-Q president, Chaudry Shujaat Hussain, was trying to strike a deal with the MMA, to convince the MMA to co-operate with the PML-Q and break the political deadlock over the Legal Framework Order.

The strategic hour had arrived for the MAA to bring out its greatest weapon - its political leverage. The MMA has agreed to an about-face on the LFO, saying they will be willing to relax their opposition to the LFO and accept Musharraf as President, in Army uniform, provided the government is willing to accept the MMA's Islamisation package.

THE MMA'S ISLAMISATION PACKAGE.

This Islamisation package extends beyond the NWFP. The MMA's Islamisation package contains 17 demands - 7 are related to the LFO, and 10 are related to Islamisation. These demands include: a revision of media policy to bring it in line with Islamic values, the setting up of commissions and institutions to streamline the education system and economy according to Islamic teaching, the promotion of the shalwar kameez, (long smock with lose-fitting trousers) as the "national uniform" (to be made compulsory in all schools and colleges), Friday to be a weekly public holiday, and that Musharraf's Madrassa Ordinance be repealed and madrassa's be removed from the "watch list".

Another demand of the MMA is an amendment to Article 2 of the Constitution - "Islam shall be the State religion of Pakistan", to include that all laws will be in conformity with the Quran and Sunnah as per the recommendations of the Council of Islamic Ideology, to ensure that no legislation contrary to the Sharia is carried out in the future. (The Council of Islamic Ideology was set up in the 1970s to ensure that all laws would be in accordance with Sharia, but it has always had a limited role.) The MMA also demands that all recommendations of the Council of Islamic Ideology be discussed in the parliament and amendments be made in the constitution accordingly to ensure the supremacy of Sharia in the country.

A further MMA demand is the removal of the President's power to pardon a person sentenced by the High Court in Hadood (or Hudood) cases. The Hadood Ordinance criminalizes non-marital rape, extramarital sex, and several alcohol, gambling, and property offenses. The Hadood Ordinance however, makes it necessary for a woman who has been raped to produce four adult male Muslim eye-witnesses to the crime who are willing to testify in her favour or else she, the rape victim, is imprisoned until the courts determine her fate.

The PML-Q president, Chaudry Shujaat Hussain, claims that while 10 of the MMA demands have been already agreed to, the rights of women and minorities will be ensured.

President Musharraf has summonsed the National Assembly to meet in Islamabad on 7 June 03 for the announcement of the national budget. Security will be high as disturbances from those opposed to the LFO are expected.

President Musharraf has two options - to rule by dictatorial decree and reign in the MMA, or to yield and be manipulated by the MMA.

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After the October 2002 elections Benazir Bhutto said, "The military want to hold a red rag up to the West and say 'Look West, you need a military dictatorship, because if there's not, then pro-Taliban parties are going to come to power'. The MMA is a frightening scenario because when you create genies, genies get out of hand. What we have seen in the MMA is a genie of frightening proportions." (AFP 13 October 2002).

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links: here are two articles that, together, cover the issue
reasonably well.

"Standoff Paralyzes Pakistan Parliament" by Paul Haven
Associated Press, 4 June 2003
http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,1280,-2748717,00.html

"MMA proposes 17-point agenda to settle LFO issue"
Paktribune. Islamabad, 31 May 2003
http://www.paktribune.com/news/index.php?id=27050