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November 20, 2006

Women’s bill: religious parties lose rally show


November 20, 2006

It was a big rally. Large number of women actively participated in the celebration rally organized by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement to welcome the Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill. National Assembly passed this bill three days ago with the support of Benazir Bhutto-led PPP.

Participants of the MQM rally - from Tibet Centre to the Mazar-e-Qauid’s intersection - were also holding aloft portraits of President Gen Pervez Musharraf and party chief Altaf Hussain. Carrying party flags and welcome banners the participants were raising slogans against the religious parties.

Though the rally was organised on a 24-hour notice, it was a biggest turnout of women at any single public meeting as MQM chief who was watching the rally through different channels described it as a “referendum” against Mullaism and religious extremism.

Twenty-nine years ago, religious parties had staged women rallies in 1977 to demand the removal of Z A Bhutto’s PPP government. Karachi was under the command of religious parties at that time and Bhutto government was considered as liberal and moderate, promoting civil values in society.

Two main religious parties - Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani’s Jamiatul Ulema Pakistan (JUP) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) - were enjoying the support of Karachiites and these parties played a major role in bringing General Ziaul Haq to power by toppling the democratic setup. JUP was demanding the enforcement of Nizam-e-Mustafa in the country whereas JI wanted Islamisation in a different shape and finally the JI succeeded, as both Ziaul Haq and JI shared similar ideology, while Maulana Noorani belonged to a different school of thought.

The JUP got divided more than twice during Ziaul Haq’s 11-year tenure, with the party leadership blaming the military rulers for causing the damage with the backing of JI, as JUP was posing real threat to Jamaat-e-Islami.

However, the mindset of Karachiites changed within few

years and MQM emerged as a political force and clamped down the influence of the religious parties. The reason behind the change in people’s opinion was the martial law and the attitude of military rulers who forced the people to change their political loyalties.

The city witnessed worst sectarian riots that turned the political approach of the citizens and society got divided on ethnic lines. Karachi also faced worst ethnic polarization at that time and the attitude of the then rulers and their supporters proved that they were deliberately carving ethnic divide in society.

During Ziaul Haq’s martial law many ordinances were promulgated with the claim that the purpose of enacting these laws was to enforce Islam in the country. Hudood Ordinance was also promulgated in that period, with religious parties claiming that this ordinance was an Islamic law.

National Assembly passed the Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill last week with the support of MQM and PPP and the leaders of both the parties -Benazir Bhutto and Altaf Hussain - claimed that the bill was not against Islam.

MQM chief Altaf Hussain declared that his party would oppose any legislation that would curtail the rights of women and challenged the religious parties to prove if the Protection of Women Bill passed by the National Assembly was repugnant to Islam and Shariah.

In his telephonic address to the participants of a massive rally taken out by his followers to celebrate the passage of the bill, Altaf Hussain described the event as “a referendum against Mullaism and religious extremism”. The participants burst into cheers repeatedly as Altaf Hussain denounced Mullaism and termed it “outside the ambit of Islam”.

The MQM chief said that the passing of the Women Protection Bill into law was the beginning of the end of all those laws that deprived women of their fundamental rights. “MQM is against vulgarity. Hudood Ordinance passed in the Zia regime was un-Islamic and was passed on the wishes of Gen Zia and those Maulvis who wanted man’s domination on woman by depriving women of their fundamental rights. The Maulvis have always betrayed their followers... they have never been sincere to the nation,” he claimed, saying: “Today’s mammoth rally shows that the majority of Pakistan rejects extremist forces and that there is no room for religious extremism in Pakistani society”.

On the occasion, Altaf Hussain declared that if MMA leaders quit their seats, MQM women would contest election on these constituencies. He said that MQM believed in liberal and tolerant society and wanted women’s rights to be restored in accordance with the Islamic teachings.

On the other hand, the religious parties also brought out several small rallies on Friday but their magnitude did not match with such events 29 years ago. Though the MMA considers the women bill as a deviation from Islam and, according to some of its more outlandish comments, it would pave way for free sex, the alliance could not mould public opinion against the bill and it became obvious that the main factor behind the failure of religious parties was the rift within their ranks.

PPP LEADERSHIP is very happy these days. The party’s victory in the by-election on a vacant Sindh Assembly seat was the cause of their jubilation. This seat had fallen vacant due to the death of PPP MPA Agha Tariq and the party recaptured this seat in the by-election.

The victory of the opposition in by-election was surprising for the common man. But it was not surprising for the PPP and even for the ruling PML-Q whose candidate was defeated. It was very much clear since the day the PML-Q nominated Maqbool Shaikh as its candidate. Maqbool and his brother Imtiaz Shaikh are very close to the party chief Chaudhry Shujaat. Shaikh brothers played main role in providing platform to Ch Shujaat to launch the party in Sindh and they are very loyal to him. But Islamabad was not happy with this loyalty, as the punishment first came to Imtiaz and now to Maqbool. Imtiaz was defeated on this seat in 2002 general election, while his brother Maqbool was elected from this seat in 1997 on PML-N’s ticket. Later, Imtiaz was removed from the cabinet as well as the party office and he is still facing cases in the courts registered against him during the present PML-Q government. And now Maqbool has been punished for his loyalty.

The victory of the PPP’s Agha Temoor was not the defeat of Shaikh brothers alone. Chief Minister Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim is the provincial chief of the ruling PML-Q, so it was a defeat of the party as well. Though Shaikhs did not publicly blame Arbab for the defeat, it was very much clear from the day one that Maqbool would lose the election. There were many reasons for this defeat, with the party leaders pointing out that PML leadership had left Shaikh brothers alone in this election race.

More than 10 MPAs and ministers who reached Shikarpur to support the PML candidate were directed not to come out from their rest houses and go back to their houses. Arbab was in Islamabad on the polling day and the chief minister’s staff replied to the worried Shaikh brothers, “CM Sahab was sleeping”.

Deputy Speaker Rahila Tiwana, who was the chief (woman) polling agent of the party candidate, cried before the media that a SHO threatened her that her legs would be broken if she attempted to enter the polling station, whereas two PPP legislators Shagufta Jumani MNA and Shazia Marri MPA were sitting inside the polling station.

Rahila claimed that she contacted the IGP Sindh and complained him about the police attitude, adding, but the IGP also warned her not to enter the polling station otherwise the SHO would take action against her as the police had the directive that this election must be held in a transparent manner.

PPP had deployed all its MNAs and MPAs as polling agents and they performed their duties smoothly. Sindh PPP chief Syed Qaim Ali Shah was the chief polling agent of the party candidate. According to unofficial results announced by the Election Commission, Agha Temoor got 19,337 votes against Maqbool Shaikh’s 18,571 votes, while 760 votes were rejected.

Shaikh brothers described their defeat as a conspiracy and they also boycotted the recounting of votes.

Whatever the reasons may be, many questions were raised over the defeat of the PML-Q’s candidate. Whether it was a result of Arbab Rahim’s revenge or the change of mind of military rulers? Majority of the concerned people view this development as an outcome of “good relations” between the PPP and Gen Musharraf. Is the defeat of PML-Q candidate an indication to the ruling PML and allied parties that the forthcoming general election would be held in the same (transparent) manner?

However, the victory in the by-election has given the PPP a psychological boost in the present set of circumstances.

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