- The Washington Times - Monday, April 9, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A Taliban-style Islamic court in the Pakistani capital has issued a fatwa against a female minister for posing in an “obscene manner” with French paraglider pilots, a top cleric said yesterday.

The religious decree against Tourism Minister Nilofar Bakhtiar was the first to be made by the self-styled court at the hard-line Red Mosque in Islamabad since mullahs announced its formation on Friday.

The fatwa, combined with threats by the mosque’s leader to unleash a wave of suicide bombers if the government tries to shut down the court, have fueled concern over the creeping “Talibanization” of Pakistan.

“The muftis [judges] issued a decree against Tourism Minister Nilofar Bakhtiar when their attention was drawn toward some pictures in which she appeared in an obscene and objectionable manner with paraglider pilots in Paris,” the mosque’s deputy leader Abdul Rashid Ghazi said.

“They have called on the government to punish and sack her from the Cabinet,” he added.

The pictures, published in a local Urdu-language newspaper, show Mrs. Bakhtiar in brightly colored paragliding gear taking part in a tandem glide during a trip to France and then hugging an instructor upon landing.

Mrs. Bakhtiar said the fatwa was “regrettable,” adding that she went paragliding to raise funds for children affected by the October 2005 Pakistan earthquake, which killed more than 73,000 people.

“I do not feel ashamed at all for what I did, and I am not afraid of anyone except God,” she told reporters at an unrelated official function.

The local press has criticized the government of President Pervez Musharraf for failing to take action against the Red Mosque, especially after the suicide bomb threat made last week by mosque leader Abdul Aziz.

Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azeem condemned the fatwa but said the government was determined to resolve its standoff with the mosque through negotiations.

“Use of force will be the last option,” he said.

Female students from a religious school attached to the Red Mosque late last month kidnapped a purported brothel owner and made her publicly repent. Their male counterparts briefly abducted two policemen at the same time.

The mosque’s baton-wielding devotees have also set up so-called morality patrols telling local shops not to sell “un-Islamic” music and movies.

They have occupied a nearby children’s library since January in protest of plans to demolish several illegally built mosques in Islamabad.

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