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Secular Govt in Open Deal With The Taliban in Swat

Pakistan: Sacrificing Women’s Rights So That the Taliban Thugs can Implement ’Sharia’

Friday 20 February 2009, by siawi

News Reports and Commentary

- BBC News, 16 February 2009

- Asia Times Online


[Editorials from three Prominent Dailies]

The News
February 17, 2009


We are all accustomed to strange political events. But some events are stranger than others. Amongst these is the agreement reached to once more enforce Shariah rule in Swat. Still odder is the fact that the ANP, which still describes itself as a secular party, and the ’liberal’ PPP should be behind the latest deal. We can only wish them luck and hope the move does not backfire, as has happened in the past, allowing militants time to regroup and wreak still further havoc on a valley they have terrorized for months. The desperation of the ANP, a delegation from which met Sufi Mohammad at Timergara for talks that led to this latest accord, is understandable. The horrendous situation in a region where people have suffered tremendous brutality, where girls have been driven out of schools and where people have been beheaded in public for defying the militants is one that no elected government can stand by and calmly endure. The perceptions in Swat that the military was not committed to quashing the wild band of militants it confronted added to the helplessness of the Peshawar government. Tens of thousands have fled Swat. Estimates as to numbers vary, but it is believed by human rights monitors that up to 800,000 of the valley’s 1.8 million people may have left. In the sense that the ten-day truce announced by militants and a longer-term deal with the government may bring peace to the lives of devastated people, it must be welcomed. Seen from other perspectives, there is plenty of room for trepidation.

In 1995, the first attempt was made at striking a deal involving the imposition of Shariah rule with the wily Sufi Mohammad of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah-e-Mohammadi (TNSM). The accord did not last. Today things are still more complicated. The elderly Sufi Mohammad, who remained in jail from 2002 to 2008 after being returned from Afghanistan where he had led an army of fighters from tribal areas to stage ’jihad’, has been overtaken in terms of influence and power by his son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah. Indeed, compared to the wild-eyed Fazlullah, Sufi Muhammad comes out as a moderate. Early in 2008, when the ANP reached a deal similar to the one now agreed upon with Sufi Muhammad Khan, Fazlullah violated it. The two men have, at best, an uneasy relationship. This time too, the warning from Fazlullah’s militants that the ’intentions’ of the government will be watched is ominous. As has happened in the past, when a deal is not backed by true intention, it can be broken on any pretext. Perhaps the only positive that can be seen in the accord is that it may create a defection among Fazlullah’s ranks and move some of his supporters to the now-state-certified Sufi Mohammad. Possibly this is what the government may be banking on — but it is hardly going to lead to lasting peace in the region.

We are told the people of Swat wanted Shariah; that rallies demanding this had been staged. It is hard to believe, given the environment prevailing in Swat, that there was no element of coercion behind these rallies. It is also true that what people want is an efficient, reliable system of justice. The failure to offer them this with the judicial system in disarray everywhere in the country is a key factor in the demand for Shariah law and Qazi courts. While the militants have capitalized on these feelings of people, the fact too is that the frenzied men who have laid siege to Swat can, under no circumstances, be described as being motivated by religion. Their numerous acts of violence, their attempts to stifle learning and the way in which they have targeted the most vulnerable citizens shows that they indeed care nothing for Islam – a religion that advocates kindness for the oppressed, emphasizes the significance of learning and lays down rules of respect for women, for minorities and even for enemies. It seems obvious the ignorant forces of Fazlullah seek only power and are willing to use any means to obtain this. In the past Fazlullah has been accused by the people of Swat of extorting money, jewellery and other valuables from them. Today these people are too terrified to speak out. It is a shame Swat has been lost to such forces. The fact is that this deal shows that the Pakistan military has in fact been defeated by the militants; that we are now incapable of retaining control of vast tracts of our own territory. This has implications for other parts of the country, where militants hold sway. The day may come when a decision is made to strike deals there too – and by doing so allow the militants to seize control of a people whose government no longer seems able to protect them or safeguard their rights as citizens.

Dawn, 17 February, 2009


The latest Sharai Nizam-i-Adl regulation that is to be imposed in the Malakand region will neither address the people’s demand for justice nor help in defeating the militants. Informed debate on the issue has been hampered by the complex legal and political history of the area which is often not fully understood.

First, there is a constitutional diarchy in the area: the NWFP government is in charge of law and order, but the authority to make and promulgate laws, set out in Article 247 of the 1973 Constitution, lies with the president and the governor. Hence, the need for the presidency’s approval of the deal which was missing earlier.

On the other side of the deal is the Tehrik Nifaz-i-Sharia Mohammadi, which was founded in 1992 with the express objective of having Sharia enforced in the region.

The TNSM led by Maulana Sufi Mohammad has wrested concessions from the state twice before, in 1994 and 1999, though it was unhappy with both the earlier regulations because the changes to the legal system were largely procedural.

Second, it is necessary to understand why the demand for a separate legal system has found traction here. Consider the judicial system under the ruler of Swat state (its status as a state was rescinded in 1969).

The system was not Islamic, rather it was based on traditional codes and the acceptance of the final authority of the Swat ruler. It was not perfect but held one great attraction: it was effective the trials were quick and judgments properly enforced.

The system put in place by the Pakistan state was inefficient and ineffective, leading to resistance from the people and allowing Islamist forces to latch on to the unhappiness and present the demand for change as a demand for Sharia.

What can we expect from the regulation? ‘All laws against Sharia will be abolished and Sharia will be enforced under this justice system,’ NWFP Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain has said. But experience tells us that such drives end up being superficial, making crimes out of ‘sin’, targeting popular culture, purging society of ‘western’ influence, and leaving untouched the main issue of providing justice to the common man.
The TSNM has campaigned on a platform of justice but there is little doubt that its agenda is to remake the Malakand area in its own likeness one that is not dissimilar to the Taliban in Afghanistan, of whom Maulana Sufi is a great admirer. Moreover, it is clear that the government has agreed to Sufi Mohammad’s demands because it hopes the carrot of Islamisation will nudge Mohammad’s son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah, and his band of militants to lay down their arms.

What it does, however, is send a disastrous signal: fight the state militarily and it will give you what you want and get nothing in return.

Daily Times - 16 February 2009


Shara’i Nizam-e-Adl Regulation is about to be applied to Swat once again. This time, one hopes, it will stick and not become a ruse for the Taliban behind which to gain reprieve from military attacks and regroup. The last time the ANP government wrote up an accord on the subject with the followers of Sufi Muhammad of the Tehreek Nifaz Shariat Muhammadi, (TNSM) the son-in-law of the great sufi warrior, Fazlullah, did not abide by it and the people of Swat, who are propagated to be relentlessly “demanding sharia”, suffered untold misery at the hands of his gunmen. The earlier agreement had the authority of the Sufi’s word not to destroy girls’ schools, but the schools had gone on being blown up.

This time, too, the NWFP government and the TNSM leader have agreed to the implementation of sharia justice in Malakand division. Under the agreement, Sufi Muhammad, through his public congregations in Matta, will be expected to “build consensus among his people”; His son-in-law, Fazlullah, will have to soon announce ceasefire in Swat; all the girls’ schools in the area would have to be reopened; and the great Sufi Muhammad would “help establish a strong administration in the area”, although that job is normally expected to be performed by the elected representatives of the people sitting in Peshawar.

The sharia bill will be finalised by the ANP government and subjected to a political consensus in the NWFP Assembly on Monday and the emerging document will be grandiosely called Shara’i Nizam-e-Adl Regulations. Many who will sign on the dotted line will be those who would sign anything if it remotely promised to bring a break in the cycle of Taliban violence in the region. Some will be sceptical about a blueprint of religious law that will stand only if it is not different from the law being enforced in the Tribal Areas. For instance, the blowing up of girls’ schools was a part of the jurisprudence of the Taliban government in Kabul, which was accepted as precedent in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled Areas. The last time Sufi Muhammad promised not to destroy the schools he couldn’t enforce or abide by his pledge.

The people of Swat want quick justice, the kind enforced by the Wali of Swat, as if in a city-state utopia, but they are bound to get more than they have bargained for by rejecting the dilatory system obtaining in the rest of Pakistan. They will get the “munkir” (forbidden) part of the sharia dealing with forbidden acts plus the “maruf” (approved) part dealing with acts of piety. The “praiseworthy” acts of piety such as the saying of the nimaz five times a day in the mosque will be greatly approved, but those who don’t observe the ritual will suffer physical and financial pain. And the list of the “maruf” stretches endlessly, which means that you can be thrashed for a number of things you thought were not “penal”. It is probable that the scared people of Swat simply don’t know what they are in for.

The Sufi himself says he will help in setting up a judicial system. What if he doesn’t like the way the ANP lays down the law of the sharia? Will the ANP leaders get the Sufi to become a de facto arbiter on how the sharia has to be enforced? A chilling feeling is that the Sufi and his warlord son-in-law will preside over the establishment of the sharia law and will also interfere in the day to day implementation of it. The power of the Sufi will derive from the gun of the Taliban and he will not for long allow a sharia which is different from the one enforced by the Taliban elsewhere. This is very important because sharia is the order that will ensure longevity to the governance of the Taliban in the various territories they hold. Finally, if the Taliban win the war in Afghanistan and the Americans leave the region, it is the sharia that will ensure that the territories conquered in Pakistan stay with them.

Clearly, the problem sits at the cross-section of the internal dynamics and the politics of Sharia. While both are problematic in and of themselves, their meshing makes the issue even more troublesome. The state thinks it needs to ensure some semblance of peace in the area and this is perhaps the best way to go about it in the interim. But there are too many areas of friction here, not just because there is no exegetical consensus on sharia and its implementation but also because its politics, at this point, excludes all but the literalist ultra-orthodoxy of Taliban. There is also bad blood between Sufi Muhammad and his son-in-law and the former, so far, has proved ineffective in the face of the rising power of the latter. We fear that the terms of this agreement like the one before it may be flouted even before the ink on it dries.