Sharia "Justice" comes to Swat again? Two divergent perspectives

Here are two divergent perspectives; the first one by Najam Sethi, a progressive, secular journalist, and the second one by Ansar Abbasi, a conservative, pro-Taliban journalist.

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. (Daily Times)

Well done Mr president
Monday, February 16, 2009

By Ansar Abbasi

ISLAMABAD: 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.

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 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 localised deal in a highly troubled and violence-hit area is beyond understanding, though Zardari and some of the critics feared that the US may object to what may be perceived by Washington as a concession to the extremists.

But the US 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.

These critics don’t refer to the fact that what has been agreed between the TNSM chief and the present regime was originally approved during Benazir Bhutto’s second government and later endorsed during Nawaz Sharif’s regime but never implemented.

Instead an impression is being given as if something strange is going to happen to Swat. 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 US, the naÔve 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.

Maulana Sufi Muhammad, chief of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), had assured the authorities two months ago that he would bring peace in the troubled Swat only if his demand of setting up of an Islamic appellate court named Darul Qaza is met to ensure quick justice. The News recently also published the image of the draft agreement, which was prepared and signed by Sufi Muhammad after dialogue with the government authorities.

The agreement announces that Shariah would be enforced in the Malakand division which includes Kohistan and Hazara. It added all un-Islamic laws and those in conflict with the holy Qura’an and Sunnah would be abolished as was agreed during the PPP and the PML-N governments of Aftab Sherpao and Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan Abbasi.

As has been agreed so many times before, the agreement also said that the system of Shariah courts would be introduced and decisions would be taken in accordance with the holy Qura’an, Sunnah, Ijmah and Qiyas. No decision would be taken outside the limits set by these sources of Islamic jurisprudence.

While the Qazi Courts are already operating there and most of what is written in the draft agreement is also part of the regulations issued earlier, the draft agreement demands the setting up of Islamic appellate court named Darul Qaza, which would be the final appellate authority, meaning thereby that the decision of Darul Qaza could not be challenged in any high court or the Supreme Court.

Then the draft agreement envisages setting up of a committee to ensure implementation of the Islamic justice system. Contrary to those creating confusion, this is very much in line with the constitutional provisions.

If such a local arrangement can be made to work and peace and tranquillity returns to Swat and other parts of the NWFP, it could also provide the fighting Islamic militants of Fata to consider similar localised arrangements within the state and writ of Pakistan and stop fighting and draining critical military and strategic resources to the detriment of the nation. What is encouraging is that all this is possible and doable but only if President Zardari and his coalition partners do not get cold feet under pressure of TV critics. (The News)

Will the Taliban be answerable to Shariat Courts? An analysis by Abdul Haye Kakar, BBC Urdu dot com: