And the circus begins…

The alacrity with which another women’s bill was presented in the National Assembly (NA) soon after the Women’s Protection Bill (WPB) was passed, depicts how tactfully the government is playing its cards. The WPB was passed after months of ruckus created by the self-declared ‘guardians’ of Islam, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). This draft bill is in an attempt to assuage the mullahs. PML (Q) president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain submitted the draft bill containing the six-point proposals of the Ulema committee to the NA Speaker on Thursday. The draft bill seeks an end to vinni, watta satta (barter marriages), forced marriages, women’s marriages to the Quran, depriving women of their inheritance and proposes legal action against those men who issue three divorces to their wives in one sitting. Although the bill in itself is a welcome initiative for the plight of women, the timing shows that it was a calculated move on the part of the government. One must not forget how the government was sly enough to table the WPB at a time when the Opposition was on the verge of creating a grand alliance after Bugti’s death. But as soon as the government presented the WPB, inevitable cracks started to emerge in the grand alliance as the maulvis were against the bill while the Pakistan Peoples’ Party-Parliamentarians (PPP-P) were in its favour.

The WPB has brought with it many a dramatic performance. As if Chaudhry Shujaat’s theatrics on the floor of the House were not enough – when he offered his conditional resignation if any law in the WPB was found against the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah – now the MMA is trying to create a stir by announcing that it would implement its decision of resigning from the NA in protest against the passage of the bill. While Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman was not very forthcoming and seemed a bit reluctant to make any announcement about the resignations, Qazi Hussain Ahmed remained adamant and announced that the decision was final. He further announced that the resignations would be presented to the Speaker at the next session of the NA, which would be in December. The mullahs have been threatening to resign for quite some time now. It was their way of blackmailing the government, but now that the government seems to have called their bluff, they are trying to save face. It seems as if the mullahs are not too keen on parting with their newfound power. They have only decided to resign from the lower house of parliament, i.e. the NA, but are sticking to their seats in the Senate and at the provincial level. They would not like to quit any provincial assemblies as they have provincial governments in both NWFP and Balochistan. Remaining in the Senate is important to safeguard provincial interests. There is great scepticism about whether their resignations would even materialise in the NA. Only time would tell.

Another fallout of the WPB is the decision of Dr. Sher Afgan Niazi, the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, along with 15 other parliamentarians of the Patriots to join the ruling PML before the next general elections. It seems as if the lotas are continuing to spin, as is their wont. And the hotly denied, but still possible ‘deal’ with the PPP-P could be yet another fallout of the WPB. It seems as if General Musharraf is trying his best to secure his position. Regardless of the political gimmickry at hand, these bills are essential, although this is certainly not the end of the road for women’s issues.

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