PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Months after sweeping to power amid a surge of anti-American sentiment, a coalition of Islamic parties on Tuesday proposed laws to make this conservative frontier region the first in Pakistan to be governed based on the mandates of the Quran, Islam's holy book.
The effort to bring Shariah to the North West Frontier Province, a deeply conservative area that borders Afghanistan and is believed by intelligence officials to be a possible hiding place for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida fugitives, was expected to cause concern in Washington.
It also marked a new challenge to the secular government of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism.
Federal Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the government was reviewing the legislation and considered parts of it problematic.
"Some measures taken by the provincial government in the NWFP (North West Frontier Province) are in conflict with Pakistani federal laws," Ahmed told The Associated Press.
The federal government can challenge any measures considered contrary to national laws, though the provincial legislature has wide latitude to change local laws.
The legislation, presented before a packed parliament in the provincial capital, must be approved by the legislature and signed by the governor to become law. But the Islamic coalition — called the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal — dominates parliament, and passage is considered a formality.
During the session, a small contingent of female legislators from the Islamic alliance wore body-shrouding black hajabs. Opposition female legislators wore the brightly colored, loose-fitting shalwar kameez preferred by most Pakistani women.
Hard-line leaders praised the legislation and said they hoped it would be the beginning of an Islamic wave that would spread throughout Pakistan, a Muslim nation that has nonetheless resisted adopting a legal system based on a strict interpretation of the religion.
"This is a historic day, not only for this province but for the whole country because we are setting an example," said Maulana Abdul Jalil Jan, provincial information secretary for Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam, the leading party in the Islamic coalition.
Religious coalition leaders have praised Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime and called for the ouster of Western influence from Pakistan.
Hundreds of Taliban and al-Qaida fugitives are believed to have fled Afghanistan during the U.S. bombardment, many making their way over remote and craggy mountaintops to reach North West Frontier Province.
The five-page Shariah bill, which the religious coalition has been promising since it swept to power in October elections, was light on details. It calls for creation of a committee to study the education system and another to devise alternatives to interest-earning bank accounts, which are considered a violation of Islam's ban on usury.
Law Minister Malik Zafar Azam said the provincial government would present a second piece of legislation setting up a force to monitor corruption and fight "social evil." The law would call for creation of a parallel legal system whose decisions could not be challenged by any court.
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