Girls Return to School -
Swat Valley

Digital Photo Collage

Note: this image was created from 3 photographs taken in the Swat Valley: a bombed girl's school, teenage school girls, and a young school girl.

More News About the Peace Deal in Pakistan

Feb. 27, 2009
N.J. Lukanovich

One choice morsel of new information about the Sharia/peace deal negotiated between Pakistan's President Zardari and the Sufi Muhammad Khan is that the deal apparently included a 6 million dollar payment from the government. Another tidbit is that the militants are keen on extending the cease fire in the Malakand division beyond tomorrow, day ten of the truce, and the cease fire has been extended to the adjoining Bajaur Agency (part of the Federally Adminstered Tribal Areas - FATA). The news that's meant to make us feel warm and fuzzy (and reassured that the Taliban in the Malakand division, including the Swat Valley, is kindly and not too strict), is that girls have now returned to school. At least private schools. At least in the Western part of the Swat Valley. And only up to grade 5 level. There is a photo that has appeared in several newspapers of girls sitting in school, providing "proof" that girls can now go to school.

It would probably be more accurate to report that some girls in some villages have been allowed to return to school. How people are living in the Swat Valley or the rest of the Malakand division depends on where they are living and on how much of an impact the TTP has in their local area, who their local members of the TTP are, and how strict their attitudes towards "Islamic" law may be. The TTP, the insurgents, are comprised of people who have grown up in the villages of the region, and the Malakand division is an area that includes several different groups who follow Islam in vastly different ways. Pashtoun regions would view Sharia far differently than in locales where women have had freedoms comparable to women in the rest of Pakistan.

Media coverage on the region has been shoddy and that's being kind. Lesser known regions in the world seem to invite journalists to relax the facts in favor of speedy reports. Or maybe it's the editors, wittling text down until it begins to mean something else entirely. I scoured countless articles for last week's posting "Obliteration of Human Rights in the Swat Valley", and found a plethora of misinformation. Ultimately, the UN report provided the most in depth recent history of events in the region, and reports from Pakistani papers contained the most information about the current situation. The big news media (i.e., The Washington Post and The New York Times), were prone to reducing events to one liners, thereby distorting the facts or delivering a superficial report that left one with little information.

One example of misinformation was the assertion that Sufi Muhammad Khan was imprisoned after stirring up an uprising to implement Sharia law in 1994, leaving the impression that he was in prison since that time. In fact, as I wrote last week, he was not imprisoned until 2002, after leading 10,000 troops from the Swat Valley and tribal areas to fight in Afghanistan against NATO forces.

Misinformation is as misleading as calculated spin, it lacks a conscious motive and may occur out of sheer laziness, but few readers have time to check another 40 articles to ascertain whether or not all the information in The Washington Post is correct, especially when 30 of the articles will deliver the same inaccuracies. It's easy to be loose with the facts when the majority of people are unaware of both a region's history and current affairs. You could create an entirely false history for the Swat Valley and a tiny minority of readers in North America would know that it's make-believe. It would be a much more difficult feat to play make-believe with the events in British history, whether recent or long-ago.

Also missing in the articles of major North American papers, is the news that 3 Taliban chiefs in the tribal region (FATA), who had been feuding with each other, resolved their differences with the help of Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Beitullah Mehsud, Taliban chief of South Warziristan, Maulvi Nazir, Taliban chief in Wana, and Hafiz Gul Bahadur, chief of North Warziristan, have agreed to put their differences aside, and released a declaration that commits all three to waging jihad against the following infidels: the U.S., Pakistan President Zardari, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

All that being said, the report that Pakistan paid 6 million to the insurgents may just be a rumour. Or who knows, maybe they paid more, or promised more. Speaking of money, Senator John Kerry has endorsed a U.S. think-tank report that recommends the U.S. give Pakistan about 5 billion dollars a year over the next few years, on top of tripling non-military aid over five years to 7.5 billion. Kerry and others in congress make the argument that the U.S. needs the people of Pakistan on their side, Pakistan is desperate for aid, and only part of the money would be used to plump up the resources of the security forces.

It's a valid argument, but it's equally valid to wonder if the U.S. should be propping up a government that appoints ministers who do care not a lick about women's rights, like Minister of Education Mir Hazar Khan, who presided over a tribal court that gave away five girls under 6 years old as compensation, or Minister of Postal Services Israrullah Zehri, who defended the murder of 5 women who tried to choose their own marriage partners.

The U.S. should perhaps pay more attention to India, a useful ally whose government is not in the least pleased about the peace deal in the Malakand and argues that this Sharia deal will only increase the motivation of the insurgents to spread their net to other areas, and increase the number of regions where it's safe for Taliban and jihadists to work their magic. The recent attacks in Mumbai, which many blame on Pakistani insurgents, are enough in themselves to cause concern amongst Indian politicians.

As a side note, not only is Sharia law a matter of interpretation, the term "Sharia law" in regards to systems of justice is apparently a misnomer, one that is commonly used by writers, journalists, broadcasters, politicians, militant groups, and so on.

Alia Hogben, the president of the CCMW (Canadian Council of Muslim Women), explains, in "Misconceptions About Sharia", the distinction between Sharia, "the literal meaning being the path to the source of the water - which encompasses the religious values and principles of justice, compassion and equality of all people," and 'fiqh', jurisprudence, "the process by which humans attempt to derive concrete legal rules from the two primary sources of Islamic thought and practice: the Quran and the Sunnah [practices of the Prophet Mohammad]."

She states that Sharia is very broad and more about ethics than laws, and this matters because the misuse of the word Sharia is preventing women in Muslim nations from gaining equal rights, since so many Muslims believe that laws made by men, which are changeable and based on distorted interpretations, are the laws of God. Many Muslim scholars and activists are attempting to create changes to laws that are professed to be immutable by conservative religious leaders, a task made far more difficult by the common misunderstanding that Sharia law is God's law.