Islamabad - Former President Asif Ali Zardari yesterday asked the ‘religious zealots’ to stop imposing their will on the people. In a statement issued here, the Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians chief said it had become customary for religious zealots to act as self-declared guardians of public morality in the name of religion. It is an evil that must be curbed with an iron hand, he added. Zardari strongly condemned the blackening of faces and parading in public in Gujranwala on Saturday of a couple on orders of a local jirga (tribal council) which summarily declared their nikah (marriage contract) invalid. Zardari also demanded immediate arrest of the culprits and exemplary punishment to them under the law. The reports that more and more jirgas hold such unlawful courts and award barbaric punishments are most disgusting and call for stringent measures to curb this practice, said the former president. He said that recently reports talked of some so called religio-political outfits holding their own courts in parts of Punjab that went unnoticed by the authorities.  This indifference of the authorities has encouraged the spreading of this evil to many more cities, towns and villages and is criminal, he said.

Zardari said that he was deeply perturbed over increasing violence against vulnerable sections, women and non-Muslim minorities on one pretext or the other throughout the country.

Expressing deep concern over the anti-women bias systematically being promoted by some elements in the country, the former president asked party leaders to raise voice against such abhorrent practices at all available forums.