Pakistan’s acceptance of Sharia law in Swat Valley signals weakness to militants Commentary
Pakistan’s acceptance of Sharia law in Swat Valley signals weakness to militants
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Baseer Naveed [Senior researcher, Asian Human Rights Commission]: "The government of Pakistan has surrendered before the Islamic militants and the Taliban by entering into an unconstitutional agreement with the Islamic militants operating in the country. On April 13, 2009, Pakistan's National Assembly and President implemented an Islamic code of practice, known as the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation (NAR). The resolution, passed without any debate in the assembly, is an attempt by the government to purchase peace in the Swat valley, a region in the northern-western part of the country, that shares a boundary with Afghanistan.

Prior to this, the government had signed an agreement with the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) on February 17, 2009. The agreement signed between the government of Pakistan and the TNSM outlines the implementation of Sharia law in the region. When Pakistan's President, Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, decided to present the resolution to the country's parliament, the Taliban and the Muslim militant organizations operating in the country threatened the parliamentarians. The militant organizations stated that anyone in the national assembly who opposes the resolution would be declared an apostate and a non-Muslim. One political party, the MQM, who has opposed the NAR, was declared as anti-Islamic party by the head of the TNSM.

The agreement signed between the government of Pakistan and the TNSM in February was known as the Malakand Accord. The Malakand Accord calls for the withdrawal of the Pakistan army from the Swat valley, the release all Taliban prisoners, the withdrawal of criminal cases registered against Taliban leaders and members, and the imposition of Sharia law in Malakand Agency. The Malakand Accord was meant to cover the Malakand Agency, which is a region that encompasses more than one-third of the NWFP.

In order to force the government to implement the Nizam-e-Adl, the Muslim militants abducted and killed more than 400 security personnel, including army men, during this year. In addition, a large area of the valley came under Muslim militancy and many people lost their lives. It is estimated that more than 350 schools were destroyed. Women are not allowed to go outside their residence without a male companion who is related to the woman by blood. A girl found to be accompanying her father-in-law was flogged in public by the Muslim militants. More than 500 lawyers are prohibited from going to the court. The militants have displaced more than 250,000 persons from their homeland.

The head of TNSM, Maulana Soofi Mohammad, along with 30 of his henchmen were convicted on April 24, 2002 for inciting people to cross over into Afghanistan to fight against the US forces and for violating state restrictions. Mohammad was sentenced to a ten year term of imprisonment, but has been out of prison since 2005. His son in law, Maulana Fazlullah, is the head of the Pakistani Taliban. Fazlullah has refused to agree to the peace deal until the whole country is Talibanised. The government of Pakistan has denied that the Taliban has anything to do with the Swat negotiations. The government claims that its negotiations are with the TNSM.

After the NAR was passed in the national assembly, the bomb blasts and suicide attacks on security personnel have increased. More than 50 people, the majority of them security personnel, were killed in NWFP. In addition, the Taliban has assumed control of a vast area in the neighboring city of Buneer. According to media reports, the Taliban is grabbing private property and is recruiting youth into their army. In another city, Bannu, the Taliban destroyed a girls' school. The people of Bannu are migrating to other parts of the country, particularly to Karachi, the capital of the Sindh province.

It is difficult to assume that there would be any peace in the North West Frontier Province as the militants will continue to implement their own system of law in the presence of Nizam-e-Adl. Mohammad, the head of the TNSM, has announced that with the signing of the Nizam-e-Adl, the judges of the civilian courts are non-functional and their appointments redundant. Mohammad has further declared that only those having knowledge of Shari'ah law and practices would be allowed to adjudicate matters.

In a press conference held on April 15, Mohammad said that the Qazi courts (Islamic courts) would dispose of cases in line with Sharia. By referring to Sharia, Mohammad was referring to the Taliban's interpretation of Sharia. He said, that their verdicts could not be challenged in the High Court or at the Supreme Court. He claimed that Darul Qaza (higher courts) should be set up at the divisional level as a final court.

On the other hand, Mr. Muslim Khan, the spokesperson of the Pakistani Taliban, in an interview to Reuters, said that the Pakistani Taliban will not lay down their arms in the northwestern valley as part of a deal that included the introduction of Sharia law. Instead, Mr. Khan stated that they will spread their activities to new areas. Mr. Khan stated that, "Sharia doesn't permit us to lay down arms, if a government, either in Pakistan or in Afghanistan, continues anti-Muslim policies… Taliban laying down arms is out of question." Khan further said "…we will push into new areas…when we achieve our goal at one place we move further to other areas."

It is a clear indication that the Muslim fundamentalist groups operating in Pakistan will continue their efforts to change the country into a fundamentalist Muslim state run by the militants. The NAR was possible only because of pressure from the military of Pakistan. Pakistan's military is scared to enter into the area where more than 1500 army personnel were killed during the previous five year effort to curb the militancy of fundamentalist groups. Many members of the National Assembly tried to oppose the NAR regulation in the National Assembly. However, the government dissuaded them with the argument that such an act of surrender is required to prevent Islamabad, the capital of country, from falling into the hands of the Taliban. The opposing members were asked to abstain from voting and were forced to be absent.

The government of Pakistan and the members of the National Assembly have passed the regulation and have proved that they are weak before the militants, who challenge the writ of the state. The government has surrendered before the threats of the non-state actors, who have taken-up arms, and has allowed the population to be held hostage by these militants in the name of a particular Muslim sect."

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