After years of global and national criticism over laws governing rape, Pakistan’s National Assembly adopted the Women’s Protection Bill 2006 even as religious fundamentalists allege that the change will make the Islamic nation a “free sex zone.” This bill will amend the infamous medieval Hudood Ordinances that divest women of all powers, deny them rights, and legitimizes barbaric practices such as honor killings or rapes. While the new was an improvement on the repressive older system, it fell short of repealing these Ordinances as demanded by human rights groups and civil rights organizations.
However, the new law will not make rape, regardless of reasons, a crime and remove it from the purview of Hudood laws that require the victim to produce 4 make witnesses to the crime failing which the woman will be accused of adultery and immoral character which invites death through stoning.
Predictably, Islamic fundamentalists who want a narrow interpretation of Islam to be followed and led by Leader of Opposition Maulana Fazlur Rehman said that the new law violated Islamic laws and was a conspiracy “to create a free sex zone in Pakistan .” Last September when the bill was to be introduced, the Muttahidda Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), a coalition of 6 fundamentalist parties that he leads, threatened to resign en masse from the Parliament. The Government capitulated and hastily withdrew the bill. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf was even caught with his foot in his mouth with the now infamous remarks in the US about women who want visas to the US complain of rape. After making that ridiculous statement, Musharraf tried to wiggle out of it only to be embarrassed further when the respectable American newspaper released voice recordings and transcripts of the interview.
Smarting from that debacle, the Government insisted on carrying through with the legislation claiming that it was part of Musharraf’s “enlightened moderation” program and unlike last time, the MMA did not threaten to quit. These developments led analysts to speculate that a backroom deal was struck to get it through and say that the non-repeal of the Hudood Ordinances was the sacrifice. On the other hand, it is also possible that the deal was to bring in these laws through the backdoor through ombudsmen such as the Hasba law in the North West Frontier Province ruled by the MMA. This law enforces a strict morality code with barbarous punishments for those found guilty. It is not clear if this bill violates the Constitution and would stand up to a lawsuit in the Supreme Court.
There is considerable disagreement among the Islamic parties on whether the Hudood Ordinances was necessitated by Islam or whether the new legislation was un-Islamic as claimed by the MMA. Positively, for the first time since the 2002 polls, Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People Party (PPP) supported the Government bill and voted with Musharraf.