Islamabad (AsiaNews) A new attempt is underway to reinforce Islamic fundamentalism at the expense of religious freedom and religious minorities. Mian Nadir Shah, a Member of the North-Western Frontier (NWFP) Provincial Assembly, tabled two private bills that would ban music and dancing in public places and educational institutions and using photographs of women in advertising. In both cases, the offences would be punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 5, 000 and 10, 000 rupees respectively. The accused would have no right to bail.
The proposal is backed by the NWFP's ruling coalition. Some leaders of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), an alliance of six Muslim religious parties, said that the proposed "bills would not limit citizens' freedom".
Minister Sirajul Haq told reporters that the proposed ban on music and dancing would apply only to public placesincluding bus terminals, commuter vehicles, hotels and other placeswhere they can bother people or siteslike educational institutionswhich were meant to spread culture.
A MMA provincial spokesman, Mufti Kafayetullah, said that the treasury benches would support all those bills which promoted Islamic values in the area. At the same time, the MMA has told luxury hotel owners to fire their female employees. Recently, some of its activists destroyed expensive advertisement boards.
Islamisation is not something new to this province. In June 2003, the NWFP Provincial Assembly unanimously adopted the Shari'ah Bill which made Shari'ah the basis of legislation.
Last year the MMA-controlled legislature passed the Hisba Act, placing Muslim clerics, acting as mohtaseb or Shari'ah judges, as heads of district councils, which will be run according to Shari'ah law. Their decisions cannot be challenged in non-Shari'ah courts.
The new law also requires the establishment of mosques in all government buildings, and ultimately in all public buildings including shopping centres, schools and hospitals.
According to human rights groups and liberal politicians, the legislation will strengthen extremist elements throughout Pakistan, leading to an increase in religious hatred and discrimination and the misuse of Islamic laws against minorities.
By discouraging foreign investment, it will also hurt the economic development of the NWFP.
And, in the end, greater reliance on the shari'ah will lead to the eventual talibanisation of the NWFP and the strengthening of groups tied to al-Qaeda in Pakistan.