EDITORIAL: Sharia “justice” comes to Swat again?
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. *
SECOND EDITORIAL: General Musharraf and Taliban
After President Asif Ali Zardari said on CBS News that “Pakistani forces are fighting the Taliban for the survival of Pakistan”, General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf kind of “gilded the lily” by stating in Islamabad that “support for the Taliban and Al Qaeda is increasing in Pakistan”. President Zardari conceded that the Taliban were “present on huge amounts of land” in Pakistan because of the past “policy of denial”. As a result, he said, “Our forces weren’t increased. We have weaknesses and they are taking advantage of those weaknesses”.
It is easy to say that the support for the Taliban has increased in Pakistan and presume that people will not connect it with the policies followed by Mr Musharraf when he was the sole operator of Pakistan’s military strategy. The Taliban are difficult to fight today because of the strategic choices made by him after 9/11. Far from preparing the Pakistan army to face up to the possible new challenges arising from the volte face performed by him in the doctrine of “strategic depth”, he allowed the Taliban to roam free in the Tribal Areas and establish outreach in the rest of the country through their madrassa networks. Most writers on the conflict in Afghanistan have come to the conclusion that he allowed “deniable” sanctuaries inside Pakistan after 2001 and then let the jihadis — originally meant for Kashmir — join up with the affiliates of Al Qaeda.
Support to the Taliban increased only after they were able to establish their power in parts of Pakistan then still being ruled by General Musharraf. After the warlords had made their appearance in Waziristan, he was unable to cope with them. In fact it was on his watch that a large number of military personnel were taken prisoner by Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan. It is only after the new chief of the army staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Kayani adopted a new strategy after taking over from General Musharraf that the people stopped despairing about ever facing up to the challenge of terrorism. *