LAHORE - Main religious parties here yesterday turned down the government offer for negotiations on their concerns and ‘irritants’ they find in the Women Protection Act, following which they appear poised to close their ranks for mounting pressure on the government against the law.

A telephonic contact between JUI-F head Fazlur Rehman and Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif who invited religious parties for negotiations but Fazl replied the matter has gone beyond the demand of changing the law, said a JUI-F insider.

A delegation of ulema and leaders of the religious parties from various schools of thought also met representatives of the Punjab government here yesterday.

Although the government is ready to talk with ulema to satisfy their concerns on the Act yet it was not ready to recall the law which the Punjab Assembly had passed in its last session after holding deliberation on it for about three years.

The religious parties and religio political parties including JUI-F, JI, JUP, JUI-S, Tehrike Islami and others demand withdrawal of the Act inter alia on the ground that the Council of Islamic Ideology and Ulema Council were not consulted before passing this law. These parties strongly believe the Act is contrary to the Islamic injunctions.

Muhammad Khan Sherani, Chairman of the Council and an MNA of JUI-F has also rejected the Act as contrary to Quran and Sunnah. While a member of the Council and a section of ulema do not subscribe to this viewpoint.

The execution of Mumtaz Qadri, the assassinator of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, is another issue that has added to the fury of religious parties along with the women act.

The said parties are now poised to close their ranks to formulate a unified line of action today (Sunday) on both issues which may include protest processions, sit-ins and public meetings.

The government says the law has been brought in for safety of the women from violence at the home and denial of their rights both on property and money.

Interestingly, the opposition parties including the PPP, the PTI and the PML-Q had voted in favour of the bill. On the day of legislation these parties even withdrew the proposed amendments for the sake of consensus for protection of women. The sole member of the JI, Dr Waseem Akhtar did not take part in the proceedings.

Now the battle on the Act is between the religious parties/groups and the government which is likely to flare in the days ahead if immediate steps are not taken by the government.

The JUI-F, which enjoys two ministries in the PML-N federal government, held a Shura meeting in the city yesterday which decided to widen their platform and contact the like-minded forces to frame a joint strategy.

An All Parties Ulema Convention on these issues under the lead of JUI-S chief Samiul Haq is scheduled for today in the city. JI, JUP, JUI-F, Tehrike Islamic and other parties and groups have been invited to convention where some important announcements are expected to be made.

Jamiate Ulama-e-Pakistan (JUP) is already up in arms against Mumtaz Qadri’s hanging and the women protection law. This party is due to hold a protest rally in Balochistan today.

Jamaat-e Islami has convened All Parties Conference on Tuesday to evolve strategy against the Act. Sources say the JI can also devise plan to hold women sit-ins apart from protest rallies.

On a contact Punjab Government Spokesman Zaeem Hussain Qadri said the situation is being assessed and it was premature to say how the government would react to the protests. He urged religious parties to sit with the government to find a way-out. However, he made it clear that the government would not withdraw the Act.