Taliban's True Face

This broadcast, aired on Times Now, blurs the girls lower body. Most broadcasts did not blur the image.

Video of Girl Flogged in Swat Valley Causes Uproar

April 9, 2009
N.J. Lukanovich

Video images taken by a cell phone last month in the Swat Valley have triggered outrage in Pakistan and shocked many around the world. The original video shows two public floggings by the Taliban, the first is a man flogged on suspicians of gay sex, the second is a 17 year old girl flogged for immoral behavior (reports say she refused to marry a Taliban militant). The images first appeared on Britain's Channel 4 News as part of a report on the Swat Valley by Paton Walsh and were later broadcast on Pakistani news stations. The girl, Chaand Bibi, is held face down on the street by two men, one holds her feet, one holds her shoulders, and another man delivers 34 lashes.

Since the video has been aired in Pakistan it has caused no shortage of anger among politicians and activists who opposed the peace/Sharia law deal that effectively handed over the Swat Valley to the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan). Asma Jahangir, head of the Human Rights Commission in Pakistan, told journalists in Lahore that this type of justice is "intolerable [...]. This is not just the flogging of the girl; it is an indication of what is in store for us [...] The Taliban are forcing their brand of Islam on us, and we have to resist that."

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) staged massive protests over the flogging and people across Pakistan displayed black flags and wore black armbands in solidarity with the MQM to condemn the flogging on Sunday. Schools have joined the protests; for example, 1700 female students of the Dawood Public School (DPS) held a protest rally on Tuesday. They chanted "We want peace," "Stop atrocities against humanity!" and "Save women!"

Clearly, the assurances on the part of President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, and officials in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), that the TTP's form of Islamic law would be mild were not to be believed, as anyone with any knowledge of the region already knew - including these politicans who now claim to be shocked by the video. While Sharia is often described as "Sharia law," it is not comparable to, for example, the canon law of the Catholic Church but is instead a guideline of ethics, and "fiqh" is the system of jurisprudence - man made laws based on interpretation of the Quran and the Sunnah and this is why so-called Islamic law varies so greatly from one region to another.

The Times of India reported on April 4 that the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, has ordered a court hearing over the incident. The inquiry began on April 6, with Chaudhry lambasting senior government officials for their inability to deliver a satisfactory explanation of the affair (Chaudhry was restored to his position last month after two years of street protests on his behalf). Chaand Bibi did not appear as requested by the Chief Justice on the first day of the inquiry and according to the statement of a policeman from the Swat she denies the flogging took place. Her denial triggered rumours that the video had been fabricated to smear the Taliban and ruin the peace deal, but Muslim Khan, a Taliban spokesman, confirmed the veracity of the video. According to Dawn News, he said the woman received a light sentence and that "she would have been shot," if the Taliban were really in charge. He claimed the incident took place two months ago, but village residents have stated it was a mere 2 weeks ago, which means it took place after the peace deal was negotiated, not before. Chaand Bibi's denial of the incident is not surprising; she is no doubt afraid of reprisals and does not want to be permanently branded as a troublemaker.

The horror and shock over the video by those who have little knowledge of what has being happening in the Swat is understandable, but the expressed dismay of high-ranking officials in Pakistan is surreal. There have been countless reports of floggings, and people in the Swat Valley have suffered far worse at the hands of the TTP; it would appear that it is only when video footage of the violent delivery of so-called justice in Swat is aired in the West that a flogging gets any attention from Pakistani officials (see The Obliteration of Human Rights in the Swat Valley). It's also quite disturbing that no one seems to care in the slightest about the man who was flogged on suspicions of gay sex who was shown in the same broadcast by Channel 4 News.

The Gulf Daily News reported on April 1 that a man accused of burglary was shot in the head by masked men while people stood in the street and watched. Anyone suspected of dealing drugs or being a drug addict is summarily flogged on the street. Women are no longer allowed to go to public places like markets to buy food and girls over 13 are not allowed to attend school (there has been no information in the press as to where the younger girls are attending school since 150-200 of their schools were fire bombed in the months leading up to the "deal"). The Taliban has placed signs on barbershop windows warning men not to shave, and all music shops are closed. When Pakistani politicians involved in the peace deal claimed that Taliban justice in the Swat would be nothing like the Taliban in Afghanistan, many suspected otherwise and they were clearly right.

The peace deal was brokered with the cleric Sufi Mohammad (former leader of the banned TNSM which was replaced by the TTP while Mohammad was imprisoned from 2001-2008), who is now leaving the region in protest because the government has failed to finalize the accord by signing the agreement into law. President Zardari has not yet done so as he set a condition for peace in the region before full implementation. At a news conference in Mingora, Sufi Mohammad threw blame on the government in advance for future bloodshed in the Swat, "I am ending my peace camp in Swat and if any bloodshed occurs, President Zardari and the federal government will be responsible."

Several courts have already been set up and are in use by the Taliban, they are already implementing their form of justice, and the Taliban has continued to engage in violence. They have claimed responsibility for 2 suicide bombings last weekend, killing 26 Shiite Muslims by a mosque in Chakwal, Punjab province, and 8 people in Islamabad. Just yesterday 5 people were killed in an attack by Taliban militants from Swat in Buner. The complaints of Sufi Mohammad ring false; it is no more than public relations effort to protect the Taliban from blame for a failed peace accord.

The Washington Post, in an article headlined "Congress Moves to Set Terms for Pakistan Aid" reported on April 4 that a bill sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chariman Howard Berman that would give Pakistan 7.5 billion in economic and development assistance and another 3 billion over 5 years to train the Pakistani military, sets conditions on the type of military equipment and the ways in which it can be used. It also requires reports on progress against insurgents. A similar bill is being drafted in the Senate Foreign Relations committee.

There are however, no conditions in terms of forcing the Pakistani government to protect human rights, especially critical for women, children, and homosexuals, and while it may not be realistic to expect that the Pakistani government is able to protect such rights through the use of military power in regions where the TTP has terrorized the populace, they should not have agreed to a deal that officially sanctions the use of a brutal justice system for regions within Pakistan, a justice system that disregards the right of the accused to have their day in court and meets out punishments based on accusations.

For the U.S. to ignore that the peace deal in the Malakand, including Swat, less than 100 kilometers from Islamabad, cedes control to a group of men that care nothing about human rights but only their perverse interpretation of Islamic law is appalling. The near complete silence on the issue of human rights makes the current outrage about President Karzai signing separate legislation for Shiite family law in Afghanistan seem more political than heartfelt. The concern of the U.S. government has been a miltiary concern, based on the fear that capitulating to insurgents in the Malakand will lead to capitulation elsewhere in Pakistan.

When ministers in Pakistan's central government have being involved in such things as presiding over tribal courts that give away girls 2-5 years old as compensation, one wonders if the U.S. is missing an opportunity to demand that the Pakistani government at least protect human rights in law and investigate any members of government who are suspected of ignoring international human rights. It appears that the U.S. needs Pakistan as an ally so desperately that no matter what goes on in Pakistan there will be no repercussions in form of cuts to the billions in aid. (See also More News About the Peace Deal in Pakistan)