Pakistan president condemns St Valentine's Day

File photo: Heart shaped balloons on a street in Karachi, 14 February 2011 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Valentine's Day is popular in much of Pakistan

Pakistan's president has denounced St Valentine's Day, saying the festival has no connection with Pakistani culture and should be avoided.

President Mamnoon Hussain told students that it was a Western tradition and conflicted with Muslim culture.

His remarks came after a district in north-western Pakistan banned Valentine's Day celebrations.

Valentine's Day is popular in many cities in Pakistan, but religious groups have denounced it as decadent.

Image copyright Kohat District Government

Earlier this week, the local government in Kohat, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told police officers to stop shops from selling Valentine's Day cards and items.

Kohat district is run by a religious political party and borders Pakistan's conservative tribal areas.

Meanwhile, the Peshawar local council also passed a resolution to ban celebrations of what it called a "useless" day.

Kohat district administrator Maulana Niaz Muhammad told the BBC Urdu: "Valentine's Day has no legal grounds, and secondly it is against our religion, therefore it was banned."

Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption Protesters in Karachi hold banners with slogans such as 'No love, no Valentine'

While giving cards and flowers was not in itself a bad thing, linking this to a specific day was not appropriate, Mr Muhammad said. He added that he felt such practices could encourage obscene behaviour.

However, officials in both places later said the bans had been discarded or ignored for being unpopular.

Earlier this week, there were unconfirmed media reports that Valentine's Day gifts had been banned in the capital Islamabad - although this was subsequently denied by the government.

No love lost over St Valentine's Day

Image copyright AFP

The issue of St Valentine's Day is a polarising one in Pakistan, a country where it has only become widely marked in recent years, writes the BBC World Service's South Asia editor Charles Haviland.

In the run-up to this year's festival, one conservative newspaper described it as a "festival of obscenity", asking if Pakistanis would next start celebrating the Hindu Diwali or the Christian Christmas.

In past years, conservative social groups, who view the day as a festival of immorality detrimental to traditional marriage, have declared the day to be "shameless".

Renowned civil society activist Sabeen Mahmud once set up a demonstration with slogans including "Karachi says Yes to Love". (Last April, she was killed in a drive-by shooting, although not necessarily for that particular issue.)

In neighbouring India, Valentine's Day also garners opposition, usually from Hindu conservatives who say it is alien to Indian culture and - as argued by Pakistani Muslims - contrary to traditions such as arranged marriages.

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