Hudood bill put on hold …indefinitely
By Raja Asghar
ISLAMABAD, Sept 13: The government on Wednesday put a controversial women’s right bill on hold indefinitely for what it called a search for a broader consensus, as it seemed helpless before an internal split and pressure from hardline religious parties in the opposition. For the third time in a week, the draft was put on the National Assembly’s agenda but was not taken up, and the government said it would not be in a hurry to get the law passed by parliament while trying for a consensus within the ruling coalition and with the opposition parties.
The latest deferment of the Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill amid widespread criticism of a perceived government retreat, came after a key ruling coalition ally said it would oppose ‘backdoor’ amendments being made to appease the religious parties which, in turn, said they too were dissatisfied and wanted more changes. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, back from a brief trip to eastern Afghanistan after opening a rebuilt main highway between the two countries, rushed to chair a coalition parliamentary party meeting that decided to defer the bill, which seeks to protect women from the widely complained misuse of two controversial Islamic Hudood ordinances enforced in 1979 by then military ruler General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq to prescribe punishments for Zina (adultery and rape) and Qazf (false accusation of Zina). But neither the prime minister nor Pakistan Muslim League (PML) president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain came to the house, which Speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain angrily adjourned until 4pm on Thursday amid noisy protests by members of the People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPP) over some remarks made by Religious Affairs Minister Mohammad Ijazul Haq about former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
The PPP members retaliated by denouncing the 11-year rule by General Zia, the minister’s father. The government had earlier planned to move three amendments in the bill already approved by a special house select committee earlier this month. NO TIME PRESSURE: Information and Broadcasting Minister Mohammad Ali Durrani, who announced the deferment of the bill at a news conference, declined to say when it would be taken up again or whether it could happen during the current session. He said fixing a date would depend on contacts in progress with other parties about possible amendments but that the government wanted it to be passed “as soon as possible” although it was under no “time pressure”. “We will prefer soundness over speed,” he added.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement said it would not support the bill if it contained amendments that it thought were being introduced “through the backdoor” after they were proposed in an agreement signed by the PML president with a team of PML-nominated ulema. The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), which had boycotted the select committee, said the proposed amendments were not enough to make it withdraw its threat of resignations by all its 66 members of the National Assembly and withdrawal from the PML-led coalition government in Balochistan province. The People’s Party Parliamentarians, which had joined the select committee and got some of its amendments in the original draft accepted by the ruling coalition, said it would like any new amendments to be referred back to the same committee. Mr Durrani said the dialogue with other parties would be held on not only the three amendments the government had planned to move on Wednesday but also six other recommendations made by the ulema’s committee for the stated objective of the protection of women’s rights.