Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Chairman and senior legal expert Iqbal Haider
Pakistani officials appeared set on Monday to submit to demands for strict Islamic law to be reintroduced in a northwest valley in order to pacify a revolt by Taliban militants.
Religious conservatives in Swat have long fought for sharia to replace the state’s secular laws, which came into force after the former princely state was absorbed into the Pakistani federation in 1969.
Maulana Sufi Mohammad, a radical cleric, led a revolt in Swat in the 1990s, and he later led thousands of followers to fight alongside the Taliban against U.S.-backed forces in late 2001.
Pakistani authorities arrested Mohammad on his return, and he was imprisoned until last year, when authorities released him in a bid to defuse another uprising, this time led by his son-in-law, Maulauna Fazlullah.
The fighting began in late 2007, as militants answered a call to arms just months after the army stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad to put down another armed movement seeking to impose the sharia in the capital.
Within a few months Fazlullah’s fighters were forced to retreat into the mountains as the army unleashed artillery and helicopter gunships.
But, when Pakistan‘s new civilian government came into power last year seeking to negotiate a peaceful settlement, the militants seized the chance to re-establish their grip.
The talks are taking place with representatives of Mohammad, but analysts say there are doubts about how much influence the old man has with Fazlullah, who has forged ties with other Pakistani Taliban factions and al Qaeda.
Mohammad has been short-changed by previous governments in the 1990s, who acceded to his demands for the restoration of courts headed by a religious scholar, known as a Qazi, without ever fully implementing the agreement.
Analysts say Mohammad also failed to live up to his part of the bargain in the past by failing to protect girls schools.
Awami National Party’s Zahid Khan said those old agreements would now be honoured and the Qazi courts would be re-established.
“We’re introducing something that existed there before, but could not be implemented,” said Khan, whose own ethnic Pashtun party is regarded as secularist.
The Qazi courts had administered a system of justice based on tradition and mostly sharia laws. They also guaranteed quick justice.
Many people in Swat dislike Pakistani state law, based on a system inherited from old colonial power Britain, because of corrupt officials, and long delays in delivering verdicts.
Tariq Mehmood, a retired judge and former chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, slammed the government for bowing to pressure.
“It’s happening at gunpoint. It’s a wrong precedent and we don’t know where it will end,” Mehmood told Reuters.
Various Viewpoints including Iqbal Haider
Listen here: (just after halfway point approx. 26:00)
February 16, 2009
Pakistan’s government has agreed to restore sharia, or Islamic law, in the Swat Valley and neighbouring areas of the country’s northwest as part of a peace deal with local pro-Taliban fighters.