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Province adopts Koran as law

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 3, 2003

PESHAWAR, Pakistan - A pro-Taliban provincial government passed legislation Monday that will make the area along the border with Afghanistan the first in Pakistan to be run based upon the teachings of the Koran, Islam's holy book.

The bill, passed unanimously by voice vote in the North West Frontier Province assembly, must be signed by Gov. Sayed Iftikhar Hussain Shah to become law, but that is considered a formality.

"God is Great! God is Great!" shouted the governing party legislators after the vote.

Pakistan, a deeply conservative Muslim nation, has resisted adopting a legal system based on a strict interpretation of sharia, or Islamic law.

The six-party Islamic coalition of the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, or United Action Forum, gained a majority in the North West Frontier Assembly in October elections, on the power of a strong anti-American platform. Bringing sharia to the province was the cornerstone of the coalition's election platform.

The rise of the Islamic hard-liners in places like the North West Frontier province is sure to worry Washington. Intelligence officials believe Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders are hiding in the mountainous region between the province and Afghanistan.

Opposition legislators had tried without success to amend the bill to water down its power, including over women's rights. But with little hope of success, they withdrew the amendments and voted in favor.

The bill approved by the assembly binds local courts to interpret provincial law based upon the teachings of sharia. It also calls for the creation of committees to bring the province's education and financial systems in line with the Koran, requires that Islamic law be taught in law schools and prohibits the display of firearms.

Federal Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed has said the government is studying the legislation to see if any of it conflicts with national laws.

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