On 11 April a group of women organised a demonstration outside Pakistan’s national parliament. They were protesting against a violent attack on female runners a week earlier.
On 3 April groups of Pakistani Islamists threw petrol bombs near to a mini-marathon involving women runners. Feminist activists and democrats in Pakistan are increasingly dismayed by the government's inability and unwillingness to deal with violence and intimidation by the Islamists.
Pakistan’s government is controlled by its President, General Pervez Musharraf The actual head of government, the Prime Minister, is a close ally. Musharraf is also chief of the military. He had promised (promised his allies in the West, as much as anyone else) to deal with extreme Islamism. And three armed groups have been made illegal. However there is a big, legal, oppositional Islamist bloc — the Muttahida Majlis-e Amal (MMA) — and supporters of this political bloc were responsible for the latest attacks.
MMA now controls the regional governments in North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan. In NWFP they have banned music in public transport, dancing in public and introduced gender segregation on college campuses. That is why the women demonstrating on the 11th carried placards saying “No Talibanisation of Pakistan”.
The edicts issued in NWFP reflect the ideological make up of the MMA. There are four main groups in the alliance. There are two factions of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam whose Islamic ideology is Deobandi. The Deobandi “school” involves very strict rules. The Taliban's followers were all educated in Pakistan's Deobandi schools. There is also the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan and the Jamaat e-Islami. Jamaat e-Islami is a long-standing Pakistani-Bangladeshi Islamist party. In outlook they are very similar to the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab world — combining religious obscurantism with a modern style of political organisation. Jamaat e-Islami has some presence in the UK.
Pakistan also has a strong women's movement, middle-class and intellectual in composition, but keen to fight for the Pakistan’s most oppressed women. They and the labour movement deserve our wholehearted support.