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MMA joins govt against bill

March 02, 2005

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ISLAMABAD, March 1: In what looked like a unity of conservatives, the ruling coalition and the opposition Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal alliance voted together in the National Assembly on Tuesday to kill a ruling party member's bill seeking to tighten the law against honour-killings.

Support to the Pakistan Muslim League member Ms Kashmala Tariq's private bill from the People's Party Parliamentarians and some members of the ruling coalition was not enough to prevent the combined majority of the treasury benches and the MMA from refusing the introduction of the draft designed to amend the Code of Criminal Procedure for the purpose.

The Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill had sought to amend the original law to make the offence of honour-killing non-compound able. But Law and Justice Minister Mohammad Wasi Zafar, who opposed the introduction of the bill, said a law passed by parliament last year, which defined the custom of honour-killing such as "karo-kari" as murder punishable with death, was enough and there was no need to bring further amendments.

But the author of the new bill and her supporters from the PPP called the previous law insufficient and proposed that a PPP bill on women's empowerment and Ms Tariq's draft be clubbed together for consideration by the concerned standing committee of the house.

PPP's Aitzaz Ahsan and several other members of his party pleaded for making "karo-kari" a non-compound able offence and giving the state, rather than close relations like a father or brothers of a killer, the status of "wali" who can grant a pardon. This, they argued, was necessary because often members of a family conspired to murder women marrying men of their choice against the family wishes and later pardoned the killer. Mr Ahsan said a conspirator for a murder as much guilty as a murder and "Islam never allows a criminal to pardon a criminal" under the cover of a compromise.

MMA members came out strongly against Kashmala Tariq's bill, which they saw as a move against Islamic teachings and the Hudood Ordinances enforced by late President Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq in 1979.

MMA member Asadullah Bhutto described honour-killing as an un-Islamic act but said: "Right of compromise is given by Islam any law against it will be an interference in religion." After a prolonged debate on admissibility, the ruling party and MMA joined their voices to say "no" to the bill.

The PPP challenged the voice vote and demanded a head count, but PML member Riaz Fatyana, who was presiding over the sitting at the time in the absence of the speaker, ignored the demand and adjourned the house until 3pm on Wednesday.

The treasury benches, despite the absence of many of their members, would have won such a count as well because of MMA's support, but parliamentary sources said the vote would have exposed differences within their ranks on the issue.

In the beginning, Ms Tariq seemed to be a lone voice on the treasury benches, but later received support from PML member Sardar Bahadur Ahmed Khan Sihar and Muttahida Qaumi Movement's Kunwar Khalid Yunus, who also had some problem about a private bill that he sought to introduce but was deferred for a month.

An unexpected backing came indirectly also from Religious Affairs Minister Mohammad Ijazul Haq who, on a query from the chair, quoted the head of the Saudi shariat court as saying the state acted as "wali" in murder cases in Saudi Arabia.

"We also want the same," came voices from PPP benches. In a related move, MMA members earlier staged a token walkout from the house complaining that they were not being allowed to express their views on the bill.

Before that the whole opposition marched out of the house twice in token walkouts to protest against the latest increases in the prices of petroleum products announced on Monday by the oil companies advisory committee and the oil marketing companies and alleged rigging of Sunday's by- election for National Assembly seat in Lahore won by a PML candidate.