Protest at Pakistan passport move
The MMA plans to take its campaign to several Pakistani cities
Pakistan’s hardline Islamists have launched a campaign against new national passports that do not have a column to state their religion.
The campaign was launched at a protest rally in the capital, Islamabad.
Pakistani clerics say the government’s exclusion of the column is an attack on national identity and has only been done to appease the US.
Conservatives in Pakistan are angered at President Pervez Musharraf’s alliance with Washington.
Pakistan’s six-party religious alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), is leading the campaign against the decision to exclude the column from the new machine-readable passports.
Protesters at the Islamabad rally torched an effigy of Gen Musharraf.
“The column of religion is deleted to appease the US and turn the Islamic state of Pakistan into a secular one,” MMA leader Qazi Hussain Ahmed told the crowd.
Pakistan’s government says it is only trying to introduce global standards for travel documents in line with the efforts of the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
The format for the new passports, without the column for religion, was borrowed directly from the organisation, officials say.
The government started issuing machine-readable passports early last year.
The MMA says it will continue with its protests until the column is brought back.
It plans to take its protest to several Pakistani cities over the next few weeks.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has set up a cabinet committee to examine the issue but its recommendations are still awaited.