Tacit support for violence?
By Huma Yusuf
Saturday, 21 Feb, 2009 (Dawn)
WHEN Frontier politicians and members of the Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) are done patting each other on the back, Pakistanis should take a moment to reflect on the terrible precedent that the peace-for-Sharia deal in Swat has set.
In its long stumble towards democracy, Pakistan has developed a history of political activism. But the recent agreement between the government and TNSM indicates that a violent struggle is the only path to successful representation in this so-called democratic state. Make no mistake. The Nizam-i-Adl Regulation 2009 has struck a severe blow to Pakistan’s delusions of democracy. A political infrastructure that has variously been described as failing, flailing, and fledgling is now fundamentally flawed.
There is no point denying that the government was cornered by violent means into accepting Maulana Sufi Mohammad’s terms for the imposition of Sharia in Swat. None other than Chief Minister Amir Haider Hoti directly linked militancy with the drafting of the Nizam-i-Adl Regulation when he said that there is now “no motive left for the people who had taken up arms for the enforcement of Islamic judicial system”.
Of course, all manner of democratically elected politicos — including Afrasiab Khattak, Sikander Sherpao and Pir Sabir Shah — have celebrated the regulation for articulating the aspirations of the people. But where have the people of Swat spoken? The only position stated was that of the gun, the explosive.
Indeed, these politicians now find themselves in a tricky position: measures that they have been advocating for peacefully — in the halls of assembly and through public debate — have now been implemented through intimidation. By praising the government-TNSM deal, these politicians have tacitly supported violence as a means to an end. The message then is clear: to earn representation and enforce legislature, take up arms against the government, army and the civilian population.
Sadly, the government’s decision to kowtow to the writ of the gun cheapens our history of democratic struggle and highlights the futility of peaceful civic engagement. Think, for example, of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy, which agitated against Gen Ziaul Haq’s military dictatorship through political alliances, public protest and the boycotting of polls — with little success. (Ironically, in that instance, three army divisions were deployed to quash civilian mobilisation efforts while in our present circumstances, the army has stepped down from tackling no-holds-barred militancy.)
Similarly, the Women’s Action Forum, which has been fighting for women’s rights since the 1980s, is still struggling to achieve its goals. Years of public protest, awareness campaigns, media initiatives and calls for new legislature resulted in the half-baked Women’s Protection Bill in 2006. And yet the effort to have the Hudood Ordinance repealed in its entirety continues apace.
More recently, the lawyers’ movement took on Gen Pervez Musharraf’s authoritarian regime to great effect before slipping out of the headlines. At the height of its momentum, the movement was being lauded throughout the world as an example of the efficacy of peaceful protest and ‘non-violent disobedience’ in the Muslim world.
Many thought public action was enjoying a second coming when the lawyers successfully protested former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry back into office in July 2007. But now, months have passed, YouTube videos have been circulated, Facebook groups have been populated, blogs have been posted, SMS text messages forwarded, protests well attended, and long marches long endured, but Mr Chaudhry remains deposed — the peaceful mobilisation initiatives of the Black Coats are proving insufficient. In this context, the government’s caving in to Swat-based militants suggests that resorting to violence is the most strategic option.
Implying that violence is the default mode for provoking socio-political change is problematic for many reasons. Obviously, any trend that promotes further conflict and weaponisation will continue to destabilise our civil society. In a recent interview, author and journalist Mohammed Hanif was asked about mushrooming parallel judicial systems. He responded that there are already too many parallel systems in this country — “jirga, panchayat, husband, jilted lover with acid bottle”.
By equating men who throw acid with localised justice systems, Hanif highlighted the fact that violence has already been internalised by many members of this society as the best way to seek recourse or express an opinion. Concretising that perception — in the way the peace-for-Sharia deal has — will make for a tumultuous society indeed.
Moreover, favouring violent means is a surefire way of further marginalising Pakistan’s most disenfranchised populations. The groups least likely to resort to violence — including women, poverty-addled Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis — are the ones with the least rights, suffering the consequences of insufficient representation.
This is not to say that the acquiescence to violence is the only undemocratic aspect of the agreement between the government and TNSM. The willingness to deal with an individual, as opposed to a constituency, goes
against the very tenets of democratic rule. Despite the ‘thousands’ who marched for peace into Swat, Pakistanis are aware that Sufi Mohammad is essentially putting on a fine one-man show. His shifting allegiances — he was dispatching jihadis in 2002, and championing peace by 2008 — makes his credentials as a negotiator all the more dubious.
Further, the fact that he is brokering a deal with his son-in-law leaves a niggling sense that the government has been caught up in a tribal power play between contentious family members. This is an unfortunate turn of events as good democracies are meant to transcend the particularities of their participants.
Ultimately, any agreement that rests on the shoulders of strong-arm tactics is bound to collapse. It is hardly surprising that the first news out of Swat was that of journalist Musa Khankhel’s assassination. The writ of the gun is not bound by agreements and ordinances, nor is it accountable to referendums or public opinion. If militants believe that their violent tactics can get them what they want, they will see no compelling reason to lay down their arms once and for all.
Snags in TNSM-Taliban talks in Swat
Quite predictably, Sufi Muhammad of the Tehreek-e Nifaz-e Shariat-e Muhammadi (TNSM) has run into snags while negotiating peace with his son-in-law, warlord Fazlullah of the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The Taliban have raised two questions, the matter of amnesty for the heinous crimes they have committed against the people of Swat, and the matter of their retaining the weapons they have at their disposal. The Sufi is supposed to have argued fruitlessly with them and is now carrying the Taliban reservations to the NWFP government.
These complications should have been foreseen before the offer of peace talks. Negotiating from a position of weakness usually leads to such drawbacks which then have to be swallowed. The ANP leader Asfandyar Wali on Friday justified parleying from a weak position when he said that his party could no longer see “the soil of my country flowing with streams of innocent blood”. Concealed in this sentence was his disappointment with the state elements, notably the military, to face up to the challenge of the Taliban.
The only good that has come out of the TNSM-TTP talks is the opening up of a shuttered Swat. There is ceasefire in place which the Taliban are willing to extend beyond ten days. The people of Swat have gathered around the Sufi hoping to see him succeed where the state has failed. Business is back in the markets. But the Taliban want to remain armed and don’t want to become targets of the sharia law they have welcomed at the hands of Sufi Muhammad.
One can’t see how the Sufi can enforce the new order unless he hands it over to warlord Fazlullah and contents himself by becoming its presiding figurehead. The age-old axiom that all law flows from military dominance is once again affirmed. A new rule of the game is coming into force: if you accept sharia in a region in Pakistan you have to accept the terrorists as its guardian. The logic of this development will dictate changes in the maps of Pakistan and Afghanistan in the long run with a territory between them that they will agree to tolerate. But that scenario too is an unstable one. (Daily Times, 22 Feb 2009)