Sunday, July 09, 2006

A positive, albeit small, step

They both were the chief of army staff, came to power by deposing an elected prime minister, held referendums to secure themselves as head of state, presided over manipulated elections and amended the constitution to give them ultimate control over parliament. But Zia and Musharraf part ways when it comes to the role of Islam in the state: Zia was an unabashed Islamist while Musharraf professed love for his dogs.

The problem was that Musharraf lacked the courage of his convictions and refused to annul the misogynistic and repressive laws of his predecessor. But with the promulgation of the Law Reforms Ordinance 2006, which will see the immediate release of 1,300 women prisoners, the majority held under the odious Hudood Ordinance, Musharraf may finally have taken a small step on the long road to making amends to the women of Pakistan. Yet, much remains to be done as this editorial in the News suggests: most imporantly the 2006 Ordinance does not affect the status of the odious Hudood Ordinance.

An improvement in the legal position of 1,300 women must be celebrated, as must the possibility of further changes. Yet, Pakistan is rarely blessed with undiluted good news and so is the case with Musharraf's ordinance. With an elected parliament in place the obvious path for any change in the law should be a parliamentary Act. Musharraf's choice reflects his lack of confidence in his handpicked government. A small victory for women is another nail in the coffin of democracy.

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