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On the Sharia Deal in Pakistan

In Current Issues, Pakistan Issues on February 17, 2009 at 7:36 pm

HOT NEWS from Pakistan!

On Monday the NWFP Chief Minister Mr. Ameer Haider Hoti agreed on a deal with Maulana Sufi Mohammad of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) to instigate a sharia-based judicial system in the Malakand division (encompassing Swat). This took place after President Asif Zardari gave express permission to the provincial government to make the agreement.

The main demand of TNSM was to replace the regular courts with Islamic courts. Actually, Shariat law has been in force in Malakand since 1994 but appeal cases are heard in the Peshawar high court, which operates under the civil code.

Prime Minister Gilani has expressed the motive of the government behind this deal as follows: ‘The government has opted to hold dialogue as it believed that use of force was not the only solution.’ Some other Pakistani officials had already suggested that a truce was necessary in Swat because the army was unable to fight a guerrilla insurgency and civilians were suffering in the conflict.

Indeed, the Swat Taliban said on Sunday that they would observe a 10-day cease-fire in support of the peace process. On the other hand, President Zardari will reportedly not sign the deal unless TNSM observes the peace deal.

Read here a copy of the peace agreement (in Urdu).

Concerns and Criticisms

The issue of militancy in Swat is so sensitive that any move by the government must come under critical scrutiny by national and international analysts. The deal made news today but it has already generated considerable amount of comment and observation in both print and electronic media. Here are a few snapshots:

  • I.A. Rehman, a human rights activist and columnist wrote for the Daily Dawn: “An order presided over by clerics will not guarantee deliverance to the Frontier region as matters have perhaps gone too far to be reversed. The fact is, people will reject theocracy only after paying the cost of opting for it. Pakistan should think of minimizing the damage by granting full autonomy to FATA and the Frontier province in the hope that this will douse the fires.”
  • Also by him: “Ultimately, the key to a safe future lies in Afghanistan. The war there must be brought to a speedy end. It is posing a greater threat to Pakistan, Iran, Russia, China, India, and the Central Asian states than to the US.”
  • British High Commission in Islamabad: “‘Previous peace deals have not provided a comprehensive and long-term solution to Swat’s problems.'”
  • From the blog CYNCERITY: “The logic of the Pakistani government would seem to be that, under the new system, the TNSM will get their demand for Sharia law, but this will be Sharia law, to the extent it falls within the limits of the Pakistani constitution, as this region would still be part of the Pakistani state. Hence, this would not be much more than a change in appearance, as all that will happen is, in exchange for peace, judges within these areas, will move from having the title ‘Judge’ to having the title ‘Qazi’, a nominal difference at best. They have attempted this kind of compromise before, and it will not work.This is because these people do not have any interest in falling under the control of the state and constitution of Pakistan. These are not simple clerics, who feel their religious imperative urges them to establish an Islam-based legal system in Pakistan. This is an armed revolutionary movement bent on control and establishment of their own system under their own supervision.”
  • On the blog Pak Tea House: “It is also designed to malign the good name of Islam by enacting archaic and backward laws in its name.”
  • On pkpolitics.com: “No one is clear whether the sweets distributed in Swat by the people should have been distributed but it was a sign of the people clinging to straws,” according to one observer of the scene. But it did demonstrate that the people are fed up with violence and they were probably celebrating the 10-day ceasefire announced by the TTP.” Also: “The weakness of the agreement became evident when TNSM’s Sufi Mohammed and his spokesmen said he would start a campaign to convince the militants to agree. ANP leaders were claiming that Sufi Mohammed was a giant and those who would oppose him would be rejected by the people but the recent months have shown that Sufi Mohammed was already a spent force and the initiative had been taken over by militants who did not listen to the founder of the Shariah movement any more.”

My observations

If you care to follow all the links and read the statements of the government officials, analysts, bloggers, and comment-leavers on those blogs a few things will be clear:

  1. Pakistani government is concerned about the death toll in Swat and FATA with civilians being the primary sufferers whether it’s the militants or the American drones doing the killing [Refer: Prime Minister Gilani].
  2. The government is hoping to buy peace for the region with the possibility of paving way for further dialogue with the militants. This in admission of the failure of its own military in the region and of it’s helplessness given continuing drone attacks by USA.
  3. Critics of this move insist on interpreting it as succumbing to militants without sympathizing with the difficulties the government faces and the limited range of alternatives it possesses.
  4. Some critics, including Pak Tee House and Shaheen Sardar Ali seem to conform to a distorted view of Islami sharia and possess a misunderstanding of the older judiciary system in these areas which had been replaced by the inefficient and corrupt system of the country by previous governments. It is that older system of justice, which was even then called Islami Nizam-e-Adl that is hoped to be reinstated. [Refer NT Times and Abdul Qadir Hasan of the Daily Express]

Summing Up:

I believe that in discussions such as this one, both sides of the matter should be evaluated.

In international polls on Pakistani samples, people have repeatedly voiced the opinion that negotiations rather than military actions were a desirable move for the government to take.[Refer here]

Failures of past deals should not serve as an execuse for future attempts at constructive solutions.

Violence begets violence and maneavoures by the Pakistani and US military have only been followed by more intensive retaliations by the militants.

Strikes by Pakistani and US militaries have even been used to advantage by the militants in enticing the local residents’ emotional support.

Since the Nizam-e-Adl relates to a form of justice traditionally followed in the concerned areas, the locals are more likely to relate to it. Thus the government’s deal-making may also be seen as an effort to win back local support.

Finally, while the nation clearly has no tolerance for the Taliban’s innovation of school-burning and women-killing sharia, we shouldn’t use such discussions to propagate the modernist (rather, secularized) interpretation of Islam which is as much inauthentic. A significant number of people in Pakistan and many muslims all over the world favor the true sharia over the prevalent forms of their countries’ judiciary systems. [Refer here]

On the other hand, concerns that the government may fail to take true advantage of the deal or the deal itself may be weak to begin with are valid. We can help by offering constructive solutions rather than stacking pressure upon pressure.

Finally the winner of the day in my opinion is I.R. Rehman’s apt observation which I requote below to conclude.

“Ultimately, the key to a safe future lies in Afghanistan. The war there must be brought to a speedy end. It is posing a greater threat to Pakistan, Iran, Russia, China, India, and the Central Asian states than to the US.”

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