A heated row in the Pakistani parliament over "honor killings" this week underlined the difficulty the government faces in changing attitudes to a crime steeped in tradition and dating back centuries.
The National Assembly's session was suspended after a woman lawmaker denounced the often unpunished practice of murdering someone who brings shame to the family, a statement which drew an angry response from a male deputy who defended the custom.
Kashmala Tariq spoke out in support of love matches, after a couple was threatened with death by relatives incensed over their decision not to agree to arranged marriages.
"How can they stop a couple marrying of their own free will when Islam permits them?" she asked.
But Sardar Salim Jan Mazari, a member from Jacobabad in the southern province of Sindh, appeared to defend "honor killings."
"We should respect cultural traditions of our society before making any laws to check such killings in the country," he said, sparking fury among women and liberals but drawing cheers from members of the conservative Islamic opposition.
While defending his remarks, he said yesterday that he did not mean to condone "honor killings."
"I would never encourage any kind of murder, whether it is an `honor killing' or over land," he said.
"These traditions need to be changed, but how? Through education and public awareness," he said.
But the brutal practice does have a role to play, he said.
"The tribal custom came into being centuries ago to put a check on adultery and to protect the weak against the stronger and wealthy. Do we discourage adultery, or encourage it?"
Hundreds of Pakistani women are murdered for "honor" every year, usually by relatives who argue that love marriages or affairs sully their name.
In many cases, the killer goes free, because local police and prosecutors do not consider it a crime.
In the latest incident, 15-year-old Zakia was hacked to death on Wednesday by two brothers in Punjab when they discovered she was having a relationship with her cousin, Khadim Hussain.
In another recent case, two doctors from the southern province of Sindh who married after falling in love have moved to the capital, Islamabad, to escape rel-atives who vowed to kill them. The vast majority of marriages in Pakistan are arranged.
When the couple visited Prime Minister Chaudhry Hussain last weekend, he repeated government promises to introduce laws to check the practice, but set no date.
Human-rights groups have been sceptical toward the government's seriousness, despite calls by President Pervez Musharraf to promote enlightened moderation in his conservative Muslim state.
"We need better implementation of existing laws, instead of statements saying we will ban honor killings," argued Kamila Hyat, a director at the private Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
Low-level judicial officials and local policemen needed to be ordered to enforce the law more strictly, she said.
Another proposal in parliament this week to combat "honor killings," or "Karo Kari" (black man, black woman), was to deny murderers the chance to settle a crime out of court by paying off the aggrieved party.
Under Pakistan's Islamic Hudood Ordinance, relatives of a murder victim can set the killer free if he or she meets their compensation demands.
Human-rights activists argue the penal code discriminates against women.
Under another of its provisions, a woman must have four pious male Muslim witnesses to prove a rape, or else face adultery charges herself.
Musharraf wants to amend the laws, but he is opposed by the hardline Islamic opposition in parliament that fears he is trying to Westernize the Muslim country of 150 million people.
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