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Opposition presses karo-kari bill

July 21, 2004

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ISLAMABAD, July 20: While the government is yet to come up with a promised law to curb honour-killing, the People's Party Parliamentarians pressed one of its own in the National Assembly on Tuesday to provide a legal remedy for customs like karo-kari.

The PPP's Aitzaz Ahsan appealed for support from both the treasury and opposition benches for the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill that seeks to eliminate alleged misuse of Islamic laws to help those who kill people marrying against the wishes of their families in the name of honour.

Several members on the treasury benches, mainly women, cheered Mr Ahsan by thumping desks as he explained the purpose of the move while seeking leave of the house to formally introduce the draft sponsored by him and seven other PPP members.

Further discussion on the bill, which seeks 10 amendments to the Pakistan Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure, was put off till the next private members' day.

The government has repeatedly promised to introduce its bill against honour-killing but there has been no official word on when it would be done while divisions over the issue have emerged within the treasury and opposition benches.

One opinion was that karo-kari was murder and should be stopped by legislation while the other was that killing for honour was right, Mr Ahsan said as he referred to a pandemonium that erupted in the house on Monday after Salim Jan Mazari of the ruling coalition supported honour-killings.

"We have paralysed our woman and sunk her into fear. We must liberate her from this fear," the PPP leader said. Mr Mazari of the Pakistan Muslim League sparked the row when he said women could not be allowed to "run away" to "dishonour" their families.

The MNA from Jacobabad drew loud protests from his party's women members and the PPP but cheers from some of his coalition colleagues and the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal. He was greeted with apparent approving smiles from some ruling party colleagues and frowns from women members of the coalition as he moved around the treasury benches on Tuesday.

But he kept quiet while the issue came up again through the PPP bill and PML member M.P. Bhandara's complaint to Speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain that no action had been taken on two of his call-attention notices since May about reported karo-kari murders in Sindh.

Mr Ahsan said karo-kari might have existed for centuries but the incidence of such murders increased after military ruler Gen Mohammad Ziaul Haq enforced the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance in 1979 to provide for pardon for such actions by the heirs of a victim.

A statement of objectives and reasons accompanying the bill said the recent increase in the incidence of karo-kari "has been facilitated by the ease with which the perpetrators escape punishment."

"Justifying the brutal crime as being rooted in archaic customs, they are forgiven in out-of-court processes that are recognized by law. Thus (a) heinous murder goes unpunished," it said.

"The object of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2004 is to deny the perpetrators of the crime the facility of settlement out of court so as to discourage and eliminate the practice of karo-kari," the statement said.

The speaker, with the agreement of its movers, deferred until the next private members' day a bill moved by several PPP members last March to provide for elimination of gender discrimination.

The Protection and Empowerment of Women Bill was deferred after assurances from the government that it was seeking to bring a law in this regard with consensus.

The speaker referred to the house standing committee concerned another PPP bill seeking to bring exit control procedures in conformity with fundamental rights and Islamic provisions by not allowing any action against a person without affording an opportunity of being heard.

The Exit from Pakistan (Control) (Amendment) Bill also distinguishes between emergency provisions and routine procedures for placing a person on the Exit Control List and provides for punishment of officials for any abuse of law.

Members of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy and the MMA earlier staged separate token walkouts to protest against the speaker's refusal to issue a production order for jailed ARD president Javed Hashmi.

PTV COVERAGE: Information and Broadcasting Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told the house that he was trying to ensure better coverage of opposition members' speeches by the Pakistan Television.

But, responding to different privilege motions of PPP member Naveed Qamar and MMA President Qazi Hussain Ahmed complaining of discrimination in the coverage, the minister said opposition members should not use opportunities of live coverage to give a "negative message" outside.

He disagreed with the MMA leader's demand for constituting a special committee or commission to examine the matter. The movers did not press their motions.

LOWARI TUNNEL: On a call-attention notice from five members, Communications Minister Babar Ghori said the government was likely to start construction of the Lowari tunnel this year with an initial earmarked amount of Rs500 million after approval of the project by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council. The house was adjourned until Thursday evening.