Catholics in Pakistan oppose Islamic court plan

.- The Pakistan government’s recommendation to replace some regular courts with courts based on Islamic law is facing opposition from Pakistani Catholics, who say the plan would encourage the Taliban and other militants, UCA News reports.

The caretaker government announced on January 23 that it would replace ordinary judicial officers with Islamic judges, called “qazi,” and enforce Sharia law in the North-West Frontier Province.  The change is hoped to end the insurgency in the region.

The qazi courts would handle all cases whether or not the parties are Muslim.  The final court of appeal for the qazi courts would be the Federal Sharia Court, composed of Muslim lawyers and judges.  In some civil matters involving non-Muslim communities, in areas such as family law and religious observance, cases would be decided according to laws specific to the communities rather than according to Sharia law.

Some Christians have joined the political parties, bar associations, and non-governmental organizations in opposing the change. 

Mehboob Sada, director of the Christian Study Center in Rawalpindi, criticized the plan.  “It’s like creating a state within a state, he told UCA News.  "There is no need for a separate brand of law, which in the future will give strength to more Taliban strongholds," he said.

Last year Pakistan’s military launched operations in tribal areas in North-West Frontier Province, where government control is nominal, against pro-Taliban forces seeking the imposition of Sharia.  More than 100 security personnel have died in military attacks.  The Taliban already govern South Waziristan, where five Christians were kidnapped and released in early January.

Father Bonnie Mendes, director of the Human Development Center in Toba Tek Singh, said the timing of the new move, which comes as elections approach, was very unfortunate. "The caretaker government has no right to introduce legislation of this nature since it is the responsibility of a parliament," he told UCA News.

The Pakistan People’s Party condemned the proposal, saying it was done to appease the militants, one of whose major demands was a Sharia court system. 

"Right now, the most important objective should be to regain our lost territories in the troubled tribal region and bring the area under the ambit of the country's constitution and laws," the party’s central information secretary Sherry Rehman said in a January 24 statement.

Others feared the proposal would encourage militants to expand their current area of control.

However, a chaplain at the Church of Pakistan Mission Hospital in Taank, Pastor Yousaf Patras, said the unrest had made many Muslims in the region cooperate with the government. 

"They are now helping the army identify the hidden Taliban," he said to UCA News, saying this was in part because the unrest has damaged business in the once popular tourist area.

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