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Pakistani Province Approves Legislation to Make Islamic Teachings Law - 2003-06-02

The parliament in Pakistan's North-West Frontier province has approved legislation to make Sharia, or Islamic teachings, the governing law in the region. An alliance of six hard-line Islamic parties rules the province that borders Afghanistan.

Under the new legislation, judiciary, education and banking system in the border province are to be run by moral and religious codes laid down in the Muslim holy book of Koran.

Witnesses say members of the religious alliance known as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal chanted "God is great" after the legislation was passed unanimously. But the legislation has to be signed by the provincial governor before it can become law, and exempts non-Muslim minorities in the province from following it.

Provincial chief minister Akram Durrani thanked the opposition lawmakers for lending their support to the legislation.

Mr. Durrani told the parliament that his government would make sure Islamic laws are fully implemented in the region. He said that there would be no place in the province for those rulers who refuse to follow it.

The religious alliance won an absolute majority in October's regional elections. It also emerged as the second largest group in Pakistan's national parliament. Its leaders are strongly opposed to the U.S.-led anti-terrorism campaign in neighboring Afghanistan that ousted the Taleban from power.

Analysts have said the federal government can challenge any measures that are considered contrary to national laws and economic policies, which limits the scope of the new legislation. But critics fear application of Sharia will encourage extremist elements in the predominantly conservative province.

Afrasiab Khatak is the head of independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. "That creates more intolerable atmosphere, which will create more problems for civil society. The space for civil society, which is already quite limited will further shrink," he said.

Since taking control of the province, the ruling Islamic alliance has banned music on public transport, medical examinations of women by male doctors, male coaches for women athletes and male journalists from covering women's sports. Afghanistan's deposed Taleban government was widely known for pursuing similar policies.