A Pakistani minister and woman’s activist has been shot dead by an Islamic extremist for refusing to wear the veil. Zilla Huma Usman, the minister for social welfare in Punjab province and an ally of President Pervez Musharraf, was killed as she was about to deliver a speech to dozens of party activists, by a “fanatic”, who believed that she was dressed inappropriately and that women should not be involved in politics, officials said.
Mrs Zilla Huma Usman, 35, is the minister for social welfare in Punjab Province (State) in Pakistan, was wearing the shalwar kameez worn by many professional women in Pakistan, but she did not cover her head which is against the Islamic (Shariat) law. She was going to her office and when she stepped out of the car, she was greeted with rose petals. Among one of them, the attacker shot her at close range with a pistol. She was immediately rushed to the hospital, but was pronounced dead.
The gunman, Mohammad Sarwar, was arrested immediately thereafter. He is a stone mason by occupation and is not considered to be in the radical group, but is considered a fanatic. He is supposed to have killed and mutilated 4 prostitutes in 2002 but was never convicted because of lack of evidence.
He appeared relaxed and calm and told a television channel that he had carried out God's order to kill women who sinned. “I have no regrets. I just obeyed Allah’s commandment,” he said, adding that Islam did not allow women to hold positions of leadership. “I will kill all those women who do not follow the right path, if I am freed again,” he said.
“He is basically a fanatic,” Raja Basharat, the Punjab Law Minister, said. “He is against the involvement of women in politics and government affairs.” A police statement added: “He considers it contrary to the teachings of Allah for a woman to become a minister or a ruler. That’s why he committed this action.”
Usman, a married mother of two sons, joined the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League after being elected in 2002. She fought for women's rights till now. In April 2005, she organized a min marathon for women in Gujranwala, but there was a riot by Islamic activists and Police had to step in to prevent them from disturbing the race. She also owned a small fashion business in her town.
Shaukat Aziz, the Prime Minister, paid tribute to the minister, describing her as a “committed and dedicated politician”. “During her short span as minister, she took several steps for the welfare of the people of Punjab,” he said. Zobaida Jalal, the federal Minister for Social Welfare, added that Ms Usman’s death was an “unbearable loss to the cause of women rights and their empowerment”.
Women's rights in Pakistan suffered a huge setback today. It is a constant battle between the Islamists and moderates, the former is getting bolder because of Al Qaeda and Taliban.