WHEN I wrote these lines a police training school in Lahore was under attack by armed men. Mayhem had broken out, people were killed, while many had to be taken to hospital to be treated for injuries.
On the same day, there were press reports of a militant ban on women going shopping in parts of Swat and of warnings to close down CD shops. A few days earlier, a huge explosion in a Jamrud mosque killed and injured more than 200 people. There is panic in the air, even though we have become inured to gory sights.
After the peace arrangement, Swat does not really appear as part of the Pakistani state. It has passed into the hands of the Taliban. It is, to all intents and purposes, a Taliban state and this hard reality should sink into the minds of our ruling elite.
First, the Nizam-i-Adl Ordinance (not yet promulgated) is meant to operate in Swat and not the rest of the country. The way Sharia will be interpreted will depend entirely on the power of the interpreter. The interpreters will be the Taliban and their supporters. This means that a part of Pakistan has been virtually detached from the rest of the country and handed over to those responsible for terrorising this area in the past.
Secondly, as pointed out by former caretaker interior minister Lt Gen Hamid Nawaz, the creation of a legal system different from that in the rest of the country will encourage hard-line elements in Hazara Division and the Seraiki region to demand such a parallel system. If this turns out to be the case, then we are headed for balkanisation or the Talibanisation of Pakistan.
Thirdly, the qazi courts, as they are seen to be functioning at present, will not introduce the Islamic system of justice as it existed before colonialism. There were several local systems of jurisprudence in different Islamic countries much before. The system which is presently envisaged threatens to render hundreds of lawyers jobless and it is not clear how the laws will be interpreted. The fear is that the rough-and-ready justice administered by these courts will not be justice at all. The reality in Swat is that everyone is afraid of the Taliban. There is peace but at the cost of accepting the militants’ domination. This is more of a defeat than a truce — and it is the state of Pakistan which has been defeated.
The cost of this defeat is heavy. According to a letter sent by several peace groups, including the Pashtun Peace Forum, to UN chief Ban Ki-moon about 700,000 people have been internally displaced and are leading miserable lives. Moreover, if one talks to these people they express their resentment against both the Taliban and the army. They complain that the army did not save them from the militants even when it was possible to do so. The army denies this charge but the public perception is that the army either played it safe or was not capable of combating the militants.
Some people, and not just American officials, point to the army’s romance with the jihadis since the time Pakistan fought America’s proxy war against the Soviet Union. Although Gen Musharraf withdrew support for the Taliban in Afghanistan soon after 9/11, journalists like Ahmed Rashid kept pointing out that there were Taliban camps in Quetta. The argument is that old policies are either carried out by individuals in their private capacity, or, at least at some level, are not reversed.
I have no inside information about this but it is clear that there is much confusion when groups that claim to operate in the name of the sacred are attacked by our soldiers. Surely years of state radio, television, school textbooks and public speeches using the name of Islam have caused people to see the Islamic idiom as something quite normal — and, of course, the Taliban use this idiom. It is altogether a separate matter that the Taliban’s usage of it is different from how ordinary people perceive it.
Ordinary people are not at all clear about what the implementation of the Sharia would entail. They think it would bring them the justice they have always sought but never obtained. They think they will finally find the food they have always craved but never eaten. They think there will be electricity in their homes, water in their taps, schools for their children, and no bribery or humiliation in their daily lives. In short, ordinary folk desire justice, good governance and peace. They want to live without having to face the danger of being blown to smithereens by a suicide bomber.
What the militants will give them is a dictatorship of the most barbaric kind. Excesses are always committed by ideological rulers such as the Stalinists in the Soviet Union and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Iran. But they will be more than matched by the cruel and mindless barbarity of the Taliban. We saw this in Afghanistan when it was under their rule. We are gullible and the militants take advantage of our gullibility. Slowly, they are nibbling at parts of our country. This is a situation of our own making. And we have our own unwise, narrow policies to blame. This being the case, we are the ones who should be finding a solution. A durable solution can only be found when we acknowledge our past mistakes, clean up the Augean stables inherited by the state, take our citizens on board and call the war on militancy ‘our war’ and then fight it single-mindedly, all the while helping the internally displaced.
The events which we are witnessing are reminiscent of the break-up of the Mughal empire. A number of states emerged then until the British created a centralised Indian empire. A number of states are emerging now. But the British gave us education, science, a legal system, canals, roads, railways and the postal service. What the Taliban will give us is anyone’s guess!
THE Swat situation has yet again reached animpasse with Sufi Mohammad, the leader of the Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat Mohammadi(TNSM), instituting qazi courts outside the existing legal framework andappointing qazis at his own discretion. But the government insists that thelegal framework consisting of the present infrastructure and judges should beused for issuing Sharia-compliant decisions.
Some weeks ago, the Awami NationalParty-led government in the NWFP had negotiated a peace deal with SufiMohammad, offering to implement Sharia in the Swat and Malakand Divisions. Inreturn, the government wanted the TNSM head to persuade the head ofTehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan,Maulana Fazlullah, the Swat-based compatriot of Baitullah Mehsud, to ceasemilitancy.
This turn of events is not surprising — itwas likely from day one. When the government negotiated the said deal with theTaliban of Swat through the TNSM, it was evident that it was doing so from aposition of weakness and under duress.
There is enough evidence to indicate thatthe negotiators from the government’s side had only intended cosmetic changessuch as renaming the existing courts as qazi courts. Whether they thought theywould succeed in duping the Taliban, or whether they meant to fool the publicinto thinking that they were great strategists and would achieve peace withoutgiving anything away is anyone’s guess.
Much more likely is that they knew theywouldn’t bamboozle anyone in the end, but were just brushing the problem underthe carpet and buying time.
That would be a fine tactic, were there acomprehensive plan to be put into action after the expiry of time thus bought.Unfortunately, that was not the case; there was no plan and the Zardari-ledgovernment continues to muddle through, believing that different speechescontaining contradictory claims meant for different audiences would continue topush the explosion of the time bomb indefinitely into the future. If only lifewas that simple.
The very basis of any negotiations with anarmed movement is flawed. The state ceding the rights of a section of thepopulation and leaving them defenceless against the terror and oppression offreelance fascists, used to be seen as cowardice, and not the attainment ofpeace. If anyone doubts that tomorrow the rest of the country will not be heldhostage to the same terror that the Swatis live under, he/she is living in afool’s paradise. Either that or such people already have plans in place toleave the sinking ship when the time comes.
To begin with, how are the TTP or TNSM thelegitimate representatives of the Swatis or the people of any other area? If itis a question of gun-power then the government must immediately admit that itis bowing to their might, not the extent of their representativeness. If, on theother hand, it is claimed that the majority of the Swati people want what theTTP demands, then let’s have proof of it.
Invite the TTP (or for that matter anyother champion of faith) to form a political party with a published manifestoand contest elections. That should put to rest for the next few years at leastthe question as to whether or not it represents popular sentiment, albeit of aregion or province. If it does, a political way forward should not beunachievable.
But if it does not, then at least we wouldbe able to come clean about whether we are disenfranchising an entire sectionof the population by imposing an undefined penal code on them or simplysurrendering to armed criminals and leaving the people of Swat to fend forthemselves against oppression of the worst kind.
It’s very important to be cognisant of thefact that Sharia, for all practical purposes, is not a defined penal code. Notwo opinions within Pakistanon the practical ramifications of implementing Sharia are the same. Even proponentsof the ‘peace deal’ denounce the models in place in Saudi Arabia, Iranand previously in Afghanistan.
In the absence of any existing model, suchproponents advocate ‘real’ Sharia interpretations of which there are as many asthe individuals propounding them. It remains a nebulous idea of utopia onearth. How can the imposition of an amorphous ideal, with no commondenominators for the countless opinions on it, be a solution?
Let the proponents define Sharia, build aconsensus of what it might entail into a detailed penal code and then take avote on it.
It’s time for intellectual honesty — wemust call for the TTP, or any other movement that claims to speak on behalf ofthe people, to enter the political franchise and contest elections. This mustbe considered as a serious option.
Either they will demonstrate a constituency andemerge as a legitimate political entity to be negotiated with, or they willnot. In the latter case, if ‘peace deals’ with them continue to be pursued, atleast it would be morally more courageous to admit to caving in to terroriststhan to keep pretending that they are representatives of the popular will. (Dawn)
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