The Pakistan prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said on Monday that a peace deal with the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) leader Sufi Mohammed can benefit the country and was part of his government's policy of dialogue, development and deterrence. The North West Frontier Province (NWFP) government and TNSM have agreed on the implementation of Shariah law in Malakand, a region which covers one third of the NWFP including Swat valley.
Pakistan agrees to restore Shariah rule in Malakand
The Pakistan prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said on Monday that a peace deal with the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) leader Sufi Mohammed can benefit the country and was part of his government's policy of dialogue, development and deterrence. The North West Frontier Province (NWFP) government and TNSM have agreed on the implementation of Shariah law in Malakand, a region which covers one third of the NWFP including Swat valley. "The decision was taken after a meeting between the government and Sufi Mohammed in Dir district. A member of the Swat Qaumi Jirga told Daily Times the two sides had signed an agreement whose key points were peace in Malakand division and implementation of Shariah. Another key point was the formation of a committee to work towards freeing captured Taliban, Aaj Kal added. "Hours after the meeting, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Mullah Fazlullah announced a 10-day ceasefire in Swat through his illegal FM channel. 'The Swat chapter of Taliban agrees with talks between the provincial government and TNSM chief Sufi Mohammed, and ceases hostilities for a temporary period of 10 days,' locals quoted Fazlullah's broadcast. They said he had elaborated the Taliban would review the progress of Shariah implementation after 10 days and decide their future course of action. He said the TTP fully respected the TNSM chief's decisions." AFP reported that if Islamic justice is established in the region, the Taliban will be under pressure to disarm. "We are satisfied. When Shariah is implemented practically, people will lay down their arms," said Mohammed Iqbal Khan, a senior follower of Mr Mohammed. The National reported: "The shura, or consultative council, of the Swat faction of the TTP last year rejected Mr Mohammed's urgings to end the insurgency, launched in 2007, because of the opposition of Baitullah Mehsud, the militant overlord of Pakistan and a close associate of Ayman al Zawahiri, operational commander of al Qa'eda. He also vetoed two subsequent offers of talks by the NWFP government. " 'If the Swat Taliban endorses the agreement negotiated by the TNSM, it could signal a split between Fazlullah and Mehsud,' said Amir Mir, a Lahore-based journalist and author of the 2008 book titled The Fluttering Flag of Jihad who described the TTP as a loose confederation of militants groups. " 'Fazlullah may believe he has outgrown the patronage of Mehsud, and would see this as an opportunity to declare a victorious end to his "jihad" before being killed by the army,' he said." Placing the latest developments in a wider historical context, M Ilyas Khan pointed out that: "Malakand division once comprised the princely states of Swat, Dir and Chitral, where life was governed by customary law, or rivaj, which many people also described as Shariah. "Since 1969, when the states were annexed by Pakistan, the people have been up against the British legal system with its complex procedures, its preference for documented evidence over oral, and the costs it incurs. "Many believe it was the people's craving for simple and quick justice that motivated them to support the radical cleric Sufi Mohammed's cry for Shariah in 1994. "That movement led to the introduction of the first Shariah law in the region. "Shariah has also been the central plank of the Taliban's war ideology in Swat - unlike in the more egalitarian tribal regions called the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), where disputes over Shariah have not been central to the military-militant conflict. "Now the NWFP government has proposed a Shariah-based system that would make justice quick, and perhaps slightly less expensive, without allowing it to end up into an anarchic Taliban version. "The system, as the NWFP chief minister pointed out in a news conference, would be run by the same judicial officers, under the same procedural laws as elsewhere in the country. "But he said the government had developed mechanisms to put a time limit on the adjudication of cases, something which does not exist elsewhere. "In addition, disputes can be settled under a larger body of customary law than is the case elsewhere in the country." In a commentary for The News, Ansar Abbasi, anticipating criticism said: "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 TNSM chief Maulana Sufi Mohammed 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." Saaed Shah reported: "Hajji Adeel, a senior member of the Awami National party which runs the government of NWFP that undertook the negotiations with Mohammed, said the main aim of the new law was to speed up the justice system. Under the new regulations, criminal cases would be disposed of within four months and civil cases in six months, he said. "The creaky colonial-era legal system in Pakistan means that cases drag on for years, sometimes decades, a major source of anger for ordinary people. 'If six months ago, this [Shariah] had started working in Swat, the intensity of the terror there would have been much less,' said Adeel. "The ANP a proudly secular party, has come under sustained attack from the Taliban, and last week one of its members in the provincial parliament was killed by a roadside bomb. "The new law is a relatively mild form of Shariah, with the aim of undermining support for the extremists and their populist demand for speedy Islamic justice. Religious experts, known as a qazi, will sit in the court, alongside a regular judge, to ensure that the rulings are in compliance with Islam." The National reported: "Diplomatic sources participating in talks last week with Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said he had consented to a peace treaty in Swat because the militants there were not part of the war between the Taliban and Nato forces in Afghanistan. "Pakistani helicopter gunships and air force jets are pounding militant positions in Bajaur, west of Swat and north of the pacified Mohmand tribal agency, where Mr Holbrooke attended a military briefing. " 'As was the case with previous treaties with militants, the US is party as an observer. The Pakistan government and militants know from experience that it can veto any deal with a single missile strike,' said a western diplomat, speaking in Islamabad on condition of anonymity." During a visit to India, Mr Holbrooke declined to comment on the implementation of Shariah in Malakand, but he did say, "What happened in Swat demonstrates a key point and that is that India, United States and Pakistan all have a common threat now." In an editorial, the Daily Times said: "A chilling feeling is that the Sufi and his warlord son-in-law [Mullah Fazlullah] will preside over the establishment of the Shariah 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 Shariah which is different from the one enforced by the Taliban elsewhere. This is very important because Shariah 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 Shariah 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 Shariah. 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 Shariah 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 Mohammed 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."