The long-awaited legislation against “honor killings” is expected to be passed in a few weeks by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), in the wake of the high-profile murder of a famous outspoken social media figure, according to the daughter of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Maryam Nawaz Sharif voiced out that the bill will be presented before a parliamentary committee as early as Thursday.
So much pressure has been placed on the government to pass the law against murders committed by people confessing to be killing in order to protect the honor of their family.
The law is expected to remove the loophole that permits other family members to pardon a murderer.
Qandeel Baloch’s brother has been arrested in relation to her murder, confessing that he strangled her to death as he was fueled by her promiscuous posts on social media.
About 500 women are killed yearly in Pakistan by their family members due to supposed damage to “honor” that can amount from eloping, having illicit relations with men or any other injury against conservative values or norms that govern women’s modesty.
Maryam claimed that the government intended to pass the law unanimously and had been in discussion with religious parties in parliament.
“We have finalised the draft law in the light of negotiations,” she said in an interview. “The final draft will be presented to a committee of joint session of parliament on July 21 for consideration and approval.”
According to her, once the bill has been approved by the parliamentary committee, it would be presented for a vote in few weeks before a joint session of parliament.
A spokesperson for Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the two major religious parties in parliament, mentioned that the bill would be unopposed by his party.
The country’s other religious political party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, has only a small number of seats in parliament.
Both parties have naturally opposed legislation empowering women.
The bill was passed by the upper house of parliament in 2014 but elapsed after the failure of the government to put up a vote in the lower house as it was preoccupied with laws pertaining to tackling security problems and economic reforms.
According to a senior government official, the bill was being backed by all major parties and there is a likelihood that it will be passed in a few weeks by a joint session of parliament.
“The prime minister is taking personal interest,” stated a second official and close aide to Sharif. “You will see in coming days more will be done, big changes will be announced.”
In an uncommon move, the government, this week, became a complainant in the case against Qandeel’s brother accused of killing her, making it a crime against the state and thus blocking her family from forgiving their son.
Qandeel had acquired mixed emotions from the deeply conservative Muslim society due to her social media photos and posts.
She was unremorseful about breaking cultural barriers and pushing for acceptability for women and changing “the typical orthodox mindset” of Pakistanis.
Most saw as her a disgrace to the cultural values of Islam and Pakistan, while others perceived and praised her as a “feminist icon”.
Her actions led to a political storm after her “selfie” photographs with a well-known Muslim cleric went viral, causing him to be fired from a prominent Muslim council.
Abdul Qavi, following her death, expressed to the media that her murder should serve as an example for those who try to damage the clergy. Along with Qandeel’s two brothers, he is being investigated for her murder.
Although it seems that government officials are confident of backing the bill in parliament, it could encounter resistance.
The Council of Islamic Ideology that is responsible for advising the government on the compatibility of laws with Islam, cautioned that it would fail to support any law that would eliminate the forgiveness loophole, although it considers honor killings as a crime.
“Islamic law and the Quran say that the right to forgive or punish lies first and foremost with the victim’s family,” said council spokesperson Inamullah.
“So if this bill is trying to completely take away that right from the family, then, of course, that is against Islamic teachings. The state cannot completely take away that right from the family.”
Both the religious parties and the council have important influence over public opinion and there are government fears that a backlash may occur if the law is passed without their consent.
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, whose documentary on honour killings “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness” won an Oscar this year said: “This mentality – that you can get away with murder in the name of honour – it has to be done away with.”
“I am hopeful that this law will pass but the change in mindset will take so much longer … I think Qandeel Baloch’s murder is the tipping point.”