KARACHI, PAKISTAN, AUG. 10 -- From fashion and sexual mores to civil liberties and legal principles, the shape of Pakistan's conflicted Islamic society has been called into question by the political fall of Benazir Bhutto, leaving many Pakistanis wondering whether their new government will hasten a return to strict Moslem codes predominant a few years ago.
As the first woman prime minister to lead a modern Moslem nation, Bhutto was an important symbol to Pakistanis who sought to quell the public influence of the country's radical Islamic clerics.
While feminists and other urban liberals often criticized Bhutto for not doing enough to promote secularism in Pakistan, even her opponents conceded that Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) held off attempts by religious conservatives to assert themselves in government and society.
With Bhutto's government dismissed this week on charges of corruption and abuse of power, the decades-long struggle over whether Pakistan should be a secular democracy or whether it should be governed by laws and interpretations issued by Islamic scholars is likely to be renewed.
Ousted PPP officials noted that on the day following Bhutto's dismissal, senior government bureaucrats who previously came to work in suits and ties showed up in neatly pressed shalwar kameez, the loose traditional dress approved of by former military ruler Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, who died in a still-unexplained plane crash in 1988.
"They're going to roll everything back," said Maleeha Lodi, editor of a soon-to-be launched newspaper, the Independent.
Lodi said she feared that the interim government appointed this week and backed by the military would curtail tentative press freedoms granted by the PPP. Others said they thought the new government would begin to choke off the flow of Western images and ideas that had freely entered Pakistan during Bhutto's rule.
One measure of the new government's intentions will be its management of the People's Television Network, a new state-owned channel available in the capital that is expected to begin service in other major cities within the next year. The 24-hour network mainly broadcasts a live feed of the Atlanta-based Cable News Network, along with a few British comedy and detective shows.
Rashid Latif, who had been appointed by the Bhutto administration as information secretary in charge of the network, reportedly has been dismissed by the new government. After the change of government but he was reported fired, Latif said he thought the new administration could not afford to kill the network because Pakistanis were starved for reliable information from abroad.
Even under Bhutto, the network occasionally censored the American news broadcasts on CNN, blacking out scenes of kissing, beach volleyball and leggy Paris models. But substantive news of world events, such as the Persian Gulf crisis and even Bhutto's dismissal, were left untouched.
A socially conservative country with a Westernized urban elite, Pakistan has long been torn by cultural conflicts over Islam, which was the basis of the nation's identity when it was created as a homeland for Moslems on the British-ruled Indian subcontinent 43 years ago.
In the impoverished and feudal countryside, where most Pakistanis live, the practice of Islam is influenced by Sufism, a mystical strain of belief in which the veneration of saints and sacred relics is at least as important as the pronouncements of mullahs in the mosques.
But in the cities, radical clerics influenced by the Iranian revolution of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini have gained prominence, sharing the urban stage uneasily with secular liberals.
Such contradictions were visible in the leadership and personal style of Bhutto, who tried to please both the mullahs and the liberals but wound up alienating large numbers from each side.
Urban liberal cynics mocked the former prime minister's habit of appearing in public with a loosely tied scarf over her head which she frequently let slip to her shoulders. Bhutto's practice of continually pulling the scarf up and letting it fall down became a symbol to these liberals of her waffling on public issues concerning the status of women in Pakistan.
But Bhutto and her supporters argued that they had no alternative but to move slowly on such issues.
Earlier this summer, they noted, Bhutto's parliamentary opponents tried to paint her into a political corner by proposing a bill that might have led to reimposition of radical Islamic laws, including amputation of a convicted thief's hand and a requirement that a rape victim find four male witnesses to support her claim.
Preparing to oppose the bill in the National Assembly, Bhutto made a speech in which she mildly suggested that amputation might not be an appropriate punishment under Islamic law. She was denounced by radical clerics who warned that anyone who said such things was not a Moslem and could be subject to a death sentence pronounced by religious leaders.