- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2003

LAHORE, Pakistan — The Islamist ruling parties in Pakistan’s sensitive North West Frontier Province yesterday passed legislation ordering compulsory prayers for everyone and to create a Taliban-style Department of Vice and Virtue to enforce the new law.

The move is part of a campaign by anti-Western Muslims to turn Pakistan into a Taliban-style state and is only one of several crises that have paralyzed the country and the 9-month-old civilian government.

The six-party Alliance of Islamic parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), which rules the province, said all offices, shops and schools would be closed at prayer time so that all men could go to the mosque.

The Department of Vice and Virtue is to recruit young Islamic enforcers to police the streets.

The MMA was an ardent supporter of the Taliban and still assists and backs its guerrilla war against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Before the fall of the hard-line Taliban regime, Afghanistan’s Department of Vice and Virtue had unlimited power to harass Afghans.

The bill, passed unanimously by voice vote in the North West Frontier Province assembly, must be signed by Gov. Sayed Iftikhar Hussain Shah to become law, but that is considered a formality.

“God is great, God is great,” shouted the governing party legislators after the vote.

On Friday, after an earlier vote on the bill, MMA supporters went on a celebratory rampage in Peshawar, the province’s capital, tearing down advertising that showed women, destroying satellite cable television connections and attacking offices of foreign companies. The police appeared to do little to control the mobs.

Emboldened by their success, Fazlur Rehman, the MMA secretary-general, demanded on Sunday that the government impose Shariah (Islamic law) throughout the country.

Schools in the province have been ordered to replace boys’ uniform of trousers and shirts with traditional dress, and girls have been ordered to cover their heads.

President Pervez Musharraf has been silent about these developments.

“Far from criticizing the MMA or reining in its militants, the military’s intelligence agencies have worked overtime to pave the way for their forceful entry into the corridors of power,” wrote the Friday Times, a reformist political weekly.

Some politicians believe that the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are allowing the mayhem to continue so that Gen. Musharraf, who also is army chief, can dismiss parliament and reimpose military rule.

The MMA came to power in the province after October elections in which the army and the ISI helped the alliance win a majority of seats.

Pervez Rafiq, a senior official of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, an activist group of Christian, Hindu and Sikh minorities, condemned the vote.

He said Shariah had been used to persecute minorities accused of blasphemy against Islam. “Religion should not interfere with the political affairs of the country,” he said from Lahore, where the group is based.

The federal government can still challenge any measure of the Shariah bill. The bill is considered contrary to national laws, which govern the penal system and other federal areas.

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