Social & Political Costs: Zia's Reforms

So far it has been argued that the implementation of Zia’s Islamization program had only minor deleterious effects on the rights of women; and that many of the charges brought against it exaggerated the scope, pace, and intent of Zia’s legal reforms. But such an argument is only part of the story. From a more general perspective we contend that the Islamization program proved politically costly to Zia’s regime. Its implementation also exacerbated class conflict in Pakistan as well as provoking other social costs.

First, Zia’s Islamization program became a target of international human rights organizations. Such groups focused their attention on two alleged aspects of the program: discrimination against women; and “cruel and unusual punishments.” In regard to the latter, Pakistan’s legal system was charged with having imposed barbaric punishments, including amputations, stoning to death, and arbitrary floggings. As was the case with the women’s rights issue, such charges were often exaggerated. No officially- sanctioned stoning to death nor amputation has ever been meted out in Pakistan. Nevertheless, the damage to Pakistan’s international image has been severe.

Second, the Islamization program provoked considerable domestic costs. From the introduction in 1979 of Zia’s Islamic policies, political opponents have taken square aim at them as they proved so easy a target. The issues were technical and complex, subject as a consequence to considerable distortion in the press and manipulation by relevant politicians. Moreover, Zia’s government was reluctant to openly counter its opponents’ charges for fear that such denials would be construed as an admission of the slow pace of implementation of his policies.

Whether one argues that the Islamization program discriminated against the rights of women or not, it is undoubtedly the case that the implementation of the Iludood Ordinances discriminated against Pakistan’s lower socioeconomic classes. Those accused of Iludood crimes are for the most part employed in semi-skilled, unskilled, or menial jobs. Between 1979-86, 42 percent of the males accused were cultivators; 17 percent common laborers; and most of the others were beggars, rickshaw drivers, fruit-sellers, or servants. Over 95 percent of the accused women were employed in the household. Of the accused, 75 percent dwell in rural areas. The overwhelming majority of the accused are illiterate. Conversely, very few middle-class individuals have been accused of iludood crimes — less than 2 percent. A similar pattern holds for victims of such crimes.

It is also undoubtedly the case that the implementation of the Hudood Ordinances has introduced a much used vehicle to express intra-family and inter-family enmity. Most of the cases brought before the superior courts dealing with Hudood laws, in which women were principals, are initiated on private complaints brought by the woman’s father, brother, former spouse, or mother. In such a situation the possibility of abuse is great. Also, it is not uncommon for inter-family grievances to result in charges of zina being brought against the relevant target of one’s enmity. Indeed, the reading of cases filed under the provisions of Hudood discloses that many of the cases brought before the courts lacked substantive merit. The extraordinary rate of acceptance of appeals by the FSC bears this observation out. Seemingly, such weak cases are pursued in order to: (a) punish a disobedient daughter, son or other relative; or (b) to harass or threaten an enemy. It is also very likely that the mere threat of bringing charges under Hudood may exert a potent form of social control.

Unfortunately, even if such suits are ultimately dismissed by the courts at original or appellate levels the costs to those accused may be quite severe. Obviously, those accused must bear the financial costs of mounting a defense as well as suffering the emotional torment of facing a lengthy prison term. Also, it is not uncommon for those accused of Hudood crimes to await their trial in jail. Although most of the offenses that fall under Hudood are bailable, many of those accused cannot raise sufficient funds to post bail, and many do not know their legal rights. Moreover, in the context of Pakistan’s traditional social structure, the mere charge of zina regardless of conviction, carries a significant stigma. The consequences of the latter can be catastrophic for women.

A strong argument could be made that justice would be served by actively and enthusiastically enforcing the Qazf Ordinance — designed in part as a legal remedy against false charges of zina. Curiously, the courts have entertained very few qazf cases, and they have rejected it as a remedy for slander in overturned zina cases except in instances in which a hadd crime is alleged.


Source: Islamization of Laws and Economy: Case Studies on Pakistan, Charles Kennedy. Republished with permission.
Copy URL