06/13/2018, 17.27
PAKISTAN
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Islamic parties want to impose Sharia after the election, sparking opposition from Christians and some Muslims

by Shafique Khokhar

Pakistan goes to the polls on 25 July. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an alliance of five ultraconservative regional parties, is using religion “to attract votes”. The Constitution already promotes Islamic law. Some want to see a focus on women's rights and unbiased education.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – A coalition of radical Islamic parties has pledged to impose Sharia across Pakistan if it wins the next general election on 25 July.

The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) is an alliance of five ultraconservative and fundamentalist parties. In a rally organised in Islamabad, they presented a 12-point electoral program, the first of which is the application of Islamic law.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Muslims and Christians expressed their disagreement with the proposal, noting how radical Islamic parties have always used religion to attract votes.

The MMA includes Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUIi-F), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadith (JA), Tehreek-e-Jafaria Pakistan (TJP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP).

Their own electoral base is in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, on the border with Afghanistan.

Under the 1973 Constitution, all laws in Pakistan must conform to Islamic principles, but Sharia has never been enforced.

Experts complain that election posters often show promises to implement Sharia but at the same time do not explain how that would be done.

One of the expert is Ata-ur-Rehman Saman, coordinator of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), who believes that regional parties have only "dusted out old slogans to attract votes.”

“Under Article 227 [of the Constitution], no law can be passed that goes against the principles of Islam. Moreover, the government already promotes the Islamic way of life, as envisaged by the Constitution in Article 31, and the Federal Sharia Court has the power to invalidate a law that does not conform with Islam."

For Hamza Arshad, teacher and journalist, "the alliance will not get a lot of votes at the next election, but its ideological influence could have a far greater impact. This is why it is dangerous. Even if people do not vote for these parties, they will certainly hear their message.”

"Since they do not have a real election platform, they try to exploit religious feelings to gain votes. For now, Pakistanis have not yet taken the bait, but if the trend continues, it could create problems for the elected government ".

Muhammad Zubair, activist and manager of the South Asia Partnership Pakistan, notes that "The mullahs have little electoral support and it has thinned even more with the advance of social media. For this reason, they exploit religion.”

"For the alliance of political parties that wants to enforce Sharia, this is the only a way to enter the halls of power. Their goal is to pressure the government to make some gains, but they do not have the capacity to win seats. "

According to Peter Jacob, former executive secretary of the NCJP and current director of the Centre for Social Justice, the radical manifesto "serves only to gain votes".

For this reason, he is organising courses to train politicians in 15 districts. "For us,” he said, “the parties are the front door. It is time to negotiate with them and get commitments.”

In his view, “The right to unbiased education, the implementation of the five per cent job quota for minorities and formation of a national commission for protection of minority rights are part our basic agenda”.

Sumera Saleem, an activist, is monitoring the training of polling and presiding officers in Balochistan.

Her goal is to get political parties to take more care of women's rights. "We are part of the global village. Liberals are blamed for misguiding youth, but nothing much is done to strengthen families and improve the educational system ".

(Kamran Chaudhry contributed to this article)

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