Islamic law to be imposed in Pakistan’s Swat Valley

February 17, 2009 - 0:0

PESHAWAR/ISLAMABAD (AP/The News) – The government agreed to impose Islamic law and suspend a military offensive across much of northwest Pakistan on Monday in concessions aimed at pacifying the insurgency spreading from the border region to the country’s interior.

The ceasefire will likely concern the United States but calm the nerves of Pakistani people.
The truce announcement came after talks with local Islamists.
Amir Haider Khan Hoti, the chief minister for the North West Frontier Province, said authorities would impose Islamic law in Malakand region, which includes the Swat Valley. Swat is a one-time tourist haven in the northwest where extremists have gained sway.
He said the laws would only be implemented when the valley was peaceful.
The Islamists in Swat said Sunday they would observe a 10-day ceasefire in support of the peace process. They welcomed Monday’s announcement, which did not mention any need for the militants to give up arms.
“Our whole struggle is for the enforcement of Shariah (Islamic) law,” their spokesman Muslim Khan said. “If this really brings us the implementation of Shariah, we will fully cooperate with it.”
Hoti gave few details, but said the main changes were included in existing laws stipulating Islamic justice that have never been enforced. They allow for Muslim clerics to advise judges when hearing cases, but do not ban female education or mention other interpretations of Shariah.
“This was the people’s demand ... for speedy justice.” he said. “There was a (legal) vacuum and we will be filling that vacuum in the near future,” he told a news conference.
Hoti also said that troops in Swat, which had been conducting an offensive there against the militants, would now go on “reactive mode” and retaliate only if attacked.
“Well done Mr. President”, Pakistan’s daily The News commented on the development:
President Asif Zardari’s nod to the proposed peace deal in Swat is perhaps the first major political initiative of the present government to save the valley from bleeding to death, veteran journalist Ansar Abbasi wrote in a front-page analysis.
Now when President Zardari needs to be encouraged and given a pat on his back for having agreed to this home-grown solution, overcoming his earlier hesitation to this peace deal, some confused and ill-informed political analysts and media commentators have instantly launched a campaign to derail a process which could bring back the desperately needed sanity, relief, peace and hope.
Maulana Sufi Muhammad, chief of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), had assured the authorities two months ago that he would ensure peace in the troubled Swat Valley only if his demand of setting up of an Islamic appellate court named Darul Qaza is met to ensure quick justice. The president, who was initially scared of the expected international pressure in case he approves the Shariah system in Swat but has now agreed to this and given a go-ahead to the Frontier regime to sign and announce the peace deal.
What is wrong with such a localized deal in a highly troubled and violence-hit area is beyond understanding, though Zardari and some of the critics feared that the U.S. may object to what may be perceived by Washington as a concession to the extremists.
But the U.S. cannot object if through an internal judicial restructuring, or renaming the courts, a large and potentially dangerous theatre of violence can be pacified and thousands of troops being used there can be diverted to fighting the war against terrorism in other places.
While the peace deal is said to have already been signed between Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi’s (TNSM) chief Maulana Sufi Muhammad and the NWFP government on the enforcement of Shariah in the Malakand division and is likely to be announced on Monday, the propaganda campaign unleashed on private television channels is depicting it as a move that would seriously disfigure the existing systems in the country and might encourage people in other areas, too, to demand enforcement of Shariah in their regions.
The historic fact is that in Swat the Islamic judicial system has been part of their history even during the British rule. In the days when Swat was a state run by a Wali, the judicial system was totally unique to its own needs, as it would be now, but under a different name.
The critics are also ignoring the fact that all the political forces concerned, including even the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan People’s Party, are fully supportive of this peace deal. Though, the demand for the enforcement of Shariah is generally linked to the TNSM or the followers of Maulana Fazlullah and the Taliban, the fact remains that the Swat MPs, even those belonging to the PPP, are pressing for the same as the people of Swat, irrespective of their party affiliation, demand an Islamic Justice system (Islami Nizam-e-Adal) to ensure quick justice.
Justice, and swift and speedy one, is thus the crux of the whole argument and has caused such terrible loss of lives and trauma for the thousands of citizens living in the troubled area. While these analysts cast doubts on the possible outcome of the deal, Maulana Fazlullah of the FM Radio fame who controls may minds and warriors, announced on Sunday an initial ceasefire for at least 10 days. This may be one of the biggest breakthroughs for the PPP government of Mr. Zardari if pursued sincerely and seriously and taken to its logical end.
Maulana Sufi Muhammad would start addressing rallies and processions in Swat and would launch this campaign from Matta, the most troubled Tehsil of the valley. He would go there on Feb 17.
While the constitution provides for different set of rules, regulations and laws for different areas of Pakistan and this is even true in case of other countries, including the U.S., some naive TV critics cannot understand how would the special Swat arrangement work. They are creating a confusion, perhaps oblivious of the fact that laws in tribal areas of Pakistan, provincial tribal areas including Swat, cantonment areas, etc., are different from other parts of Pakistan. And different systems for such different areas can work and have been working for ages.