By Zeeshan Haider
Pakistan is battling Taliban militants, trying to patch up relations with old rival India and struggling to revive a limping economy but another issue has preoccupied the country over recent days: the sighting of the moon that markes the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
A row erupted when the Eid al Fitr holiday that follows Ramadan was celebrated in several parts of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) on Sunday, a day ahead of the rest of the country. Many Pakistanis say that violated a spirit of harmony and unity that should mark one of the
most important events of the Islamic calender.
Some clerics in NWFP announced on Saturday evening that the crescent moon, which marks the end of a month in Islam's lunar calender, had been sighted, meaning Ramadan was over and Eid would be celebrated the next day. But a government-appointed body of clerics responsible for
moon-sighting rejected the announcement, citing reports from the Meteorological Department that said the moon could not be seen on Saturday.
Clerics in NWFP, a religiously conservative region on the Afghan border dominated by ethnic Pashtuns, have called Eid early before but this time the politicians jumped into the fray. The Awami National Party (ANP), a secular party ruling NWFP which is also part of the federal coalition, backed the clerics from its province who called Eid early.
Analysts say the ANP's stand could be a aimed at winning the support of conservative Pashtuns.