Pakistani minister dropped from party post over a hug
May 5, 2007 - 8:20:48 PM

Islamabad, May 5 - A liberal female minister was ousted from a key position in Pakistan's ruling party by rivals profiting from public outrage at photographs of her hugging a paragliding trainer in France, a press report said Saturday.

Minister for Tourism Nilofar Bakhtiar was dropped as head of the women's wing of the Pakistani Muslim League - for what party officials condemned as 'irresponsible behaviour' after a successful flight in Paris last month, the Dawn newspaper reported.

But party members who support Bakhtiyar regard her removal as an indirect attack on President Pervez Musharraf's policy of 'enlightened moderation', sources said.

The same group is said to have engineered her replacement by Minister for Women's Development Sumaira Malik.

Bakhtiar had para-jumped to raise funds for children hit by the October 2005 earthquake in northern Pakistan.

Pakistani media carried pictures of her embrace with the coach, prompting hard-line clerics in Islamabad to demand her punishment for violation of Islamic rules on segregation of the sexes.

'Now I fear for my life,' Bakhtiar later told a committee in the Senate, or upper house of the Pakistani parliament.

A passionate feminist and leading figure in a campaign that forced the government to amend Islamic legislation meting out harsh penalties to women victims of sexual assault, Bakhtiar said she was hurt by the way her adventure in France was sensationalized.

'French media praised my daring attempt but unfortunately some irresponsible elements - presented this noble cause in a malicious manner,' she said.

Conservative local media carried out a series of articles and columns lambasting the minister for her physical display of emotion.

The president of the PML-Q, Chaudhry Shujaat, also expressed extreme displeasure at the photographs and asked for her resignation.

A female minister in Pakistan's central Punjab province was shot dead in February by a religious fanatic who believed that Islam did not allow women to hold senior administrative positions. After a month-long trial, the man was sentenced to death.

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