KARACHI, Sept 12: An influential group in the ruling Pakistan Muslim League scuttled the government’s deal with the Pakistan People’s Party on amendments to the controversial Hudood laws and instead favoured an unseemly compromise with the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, it emerged on Tuesday.

Sources told Dawn that most PML legislators were totally bewildered by the party’s sudden realisation of need for MMA cooperation — even if it came at a price.

They explained that the PML, riven by internal disputes, preferred an awkward embrace with the MMA to a brief handshake with the PPP.

“And what have we gained by allowing the MMA to water down the amendments to the Hudood laws? The PPP is up in arms. Our touchy coalition partner, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, is on the warpath. And human rights organisations are pouring scorn on us,” said a minister on condition that he be remained unnamed.

MQM chief Altaf Hussain announced on Tuesday that his party would oppose the extra-parliamentary agreement under which the PML and the MMA had sought to make changes in the bill recently tabled in the National Assembly to amend the widely misused Hudood laws.

Alluding to government legislators’ statements describing the PML-MMA deal as democracy’s triumph, Mr Hussain said: “How can the proposed amendments, which push the country’s women into a cave of oppression, be termed democracy’s triumph?”

These amendments are completely un-Islamic and against the tenets of the Quran and Hadith,” he said in a statement released by the party’s international secretariat in London.

Mr Hussain criticised MMA leaders for first boycotting the National Assembly select committee constituted to finalise amendments to the Hudood laws and subsequently holding extra-parliamentary talks with the PML.

Sources close to the president said the government’s initial optimism about the unhindered passage of the Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill 2006 with PPP support was checked by the influential clique in the ruling PML.

“It was clear from the beginning that the MMA would bitterly oppose the bill. PML-N legislators also expressed distaste for amendments to the Hudood laws. Reliance was obviously being placed on support by coalition partners and the PPP. But the chaudhrys of Gujrat put the fear of God into the government by saying that the PPP would betray at the last moment,” said the minister.

However, PPP information secretary Sherry Rehman told Dawn that her party was prepared to support the bill as drafted by the National Assembly select committee.

“We obviously had reservations on the select committee’s draft bill — which found expression in our note of dissent -– but by and large we were ready to help the government. If the bill had been tabled in the National Assembly, we would have voted for it,” she said.

Her remarks were corroborated by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afgan who said PPP representatives on the select committee seemed to have clear instructions from their self-exiled leader, Benazir Bhutto, to back the government on amendments to the Hudood laws.

“The draft prepared by the select committee says that ‘passage of the bill is approved with consensus’. We had the numerical strength to pass the bill. It is beyond me why the MMA was roped in to help the government pass the bill,” said Mr Afgan.

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