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The Obliteration of Human Rights in the Swat Valley

Feb. 21, 2009
N. Lukanovich

The government of Pakistan has bowed to the wishes of the TTP, (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan), and agreed to impose Sharia law in the Malakand Division of the NWFP (North West Frontier Province), a region that includes the Swat Valley - a former popular tourist destination known as the Switzerland of Pakistan, now commonly referred to in Pakistan as the Valley of Death. Hundreds of thousands have fled the region in terror, running from the brutal attacks by the militants on homes and schools, the violence perpetrated against any suspected of opposing the TTP, and increasingly barbaric rules enforced by the TTP that deny women of any human rights.

The region is a mere 100 kilometers from Islamabad, Pakistan's capital; it is not part of the tribal region FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) nestled against the Afghan border, where the Taliban rule, it is part of Pakistan proper. (The northern part of the NWFP shares a border with Afghanistan, but most of its length is separated from Afghanistan by the tribal areas.) Many in Pakistan fear that what has happened in the Swat Valley can happen elsewhere in Pakistan.

President Asif Ali Zardari brokered the 'peace' deal on Feb. 15 with radical cleric Sufi Muhammad Khan, chief of the banned, Taliban linked, Tehrik Nifaz Shariat-i-Muhammadi (Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law, TNSM). The deal included capitulating to their most insistent demand: approving a Federal Shariat Court of Appeal and the implementation of Sharia throughout the Malakand division, even though Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani stated as recently as Jan. 28, 2009, that the Taliban in Swat would not be allowed to run their own courts.

Several newspapers, including The New York Times, reported that Mian Iftikhar Hussain, Information Minister of the NWFP, declared that "after successful negotiations, all un-Islamic laws related to the judicial system, those against the Koran and the Sunnah, would be subject to cancellation and considered null and void". In an interview with the BBC, Tariq Azim Khan, Deputy Information Minister of Pakistan, denied that any militants had been released as part of the deal and claimed that the concession to Sharia by the government would bring peace to the area.

The notion that the deal will bring peace is perceived as wishful thinking by countless observers both within Pakistan and in the West. Farzana Sheikh, also interviewed by the BBC on Monday, a London based strategic expert of the foreign policy think-tank Chatham House, stated that the decision has "fractured the country by allowing the administration of parallel systems of governance". She charged that the officially sanctioned use of Sharia in the Malakand region will only increase civil strife and divisions between regions. She further noted: "But what is even more upsetting is that these demands have come about and are being agreed not as the result of some kind of democratic electoral process but really through the barrel of the gun." A retired judge, Javed Iqbal, spoke on Pakistani television: "It means that there is not one law in the country. It will disintegrate this way. If you concede to this, you will go on conceding."

One of the reasons that many doubt the arrival of peace through this deal, is that the deal was negotiated with the former leader of the movement to impose Sharia, cleric Sufi Muhammed Khan, rather than with the current leader, his son-in-law Maulana Fazalullah. Sufi Muhammed Khan was the commander of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz e Shariah-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), but was imprisoned from 2002 until 2008. While he has issued denunciations against the violence, he has been away from the area for too long and many say he currently lacks the influence to keep the militants from violence.

It is not the first time the government has agreed to implement Sharia in the Malakand division of the NWFP. Sufi Muhammed Khan led an uprising in 1995 to impose Shariah law in the Swat Valley that became violent when the Frontier Constabulary, a paramilitary force, began an operation against Khan. The NWFP government agreed to Khan's demand to replace regular courts with Islamic courts. The demand was only partially met and violence followed. In 2001, Sufi Muhammad Khan led a force of 10,000 people from Swat and the tribal areas to fight US forces invading Afghanistan. 3,000 militants were killed and many were imprisoned including Khan, and the TNSM was banned by the government. His son-in-law Maulana Fazalullah took over the leadership of the movement, became chief of the TTP, and increased efforts to impose strict Sharia in the Swat Valley.

Fazalullah has thus far demonstrated little desire for peace. From 2004-2007 he set up more than 30 radio stations to promote Sharia, and girls' education and any active role for women in society was discouraged. Schools, barber shops and music stores were attacked. In July, 2007, violence in the Swat Valley increased as Fazalullah launched 'jihad' to avenge the operation of the Pakistan army against the Lal Masjid mosque where clerics were allegedly harbouring terrorists. Violence escalated and by July, 2008, 50 girls' schools were attacked and thousands of girls quit school out of fear for their lives. Fazalullah set up Sharia courts and the radio stations were used to terrify residents: being named on one of the broadcasts became a death warrant, one could leave the Swat Valley or turn up headless in a village square.

From August to December, 2008, the military increased action to fight the militants, moving tanks and heavy artillery into Swat. Hundreds were killed and atrocities increased, including the execution of women who refused to stop working, beheadings of those accused of spying, beheadings of women not wearing burqa (flagrant immodesty), and the destruction of thousands of homes and 150 girls' schools (bombed and burned to the ground). Activists from the secular Awami National Party that governs the NWFP were assassinated, and police were beheaded and become prisoners in their own police stations. According to human rights activists, by December 2008, 60 percent of Swat's 1.8 million people had fled the valley, and 70 Sharia courts had been put into operation. Maulana Fazalullah's main Sharia court in Swat has issued a ruling against nearly 50 Pakistani politicians, sentencing them to death.

The NWFP's Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti, seemingly in a land of make believe, declared on Feb. 16, that the military has announced a ten day cease fire and told The News: "It is my hope that the armed people will disarm themselves, give up the path of violence and work for restoration of peace in Swat." Most critics believe that the TTP will use the time of the military's truce to regroup and rearm to launch attacks at central sources of power with increased strength.

The feeble claim by officials in government that this will be a mild form of Sharia and will have "nothing in common" with the Sharia that was imposed in Afghanistan under the Taliban is nothing but a fairy tale, considering that the militants who are demanding the Sharia are already using a draconian form of Sharia. It is a form of Sharia that permits lashes and death sentences for refusing to wear the burqa, that can prosecute women who have been raped, and enforces laws such as underage arranged marriages, a male relative escort at all times and a work ban for women. A militant group so opposed to girls' education that it has burned down 150 girls' schools and whipped, beaten, and publicly beheaded people on the street for a variety of violations, is not a group that will be satisfied by a mild form of Sharia.

The chief minister of the NWFP, Amir Haider Khan Hoti dared to state that: "The people demanded this and they deserve it." Which people? The militants? Officials now claim that Sharia, which they have opposed for so long, will bring swift and fair justice. The term 'swift justice' should send chills down anyone's spine.

Of great concern to women's groups, is the increasing evidence that members of the government care little or not at all about women's rights. Israrullah Zehri, who had defended the murder of 3 teenage girls and two women in Balochistan because the girls attempted to choose their own marriage partners, was given the position of Minister of Postal Services. He justified his stance on the murder of the girls by stating: "These are centuries-old traditions and I will continue to defend them."

Mir Hazar Khan was granted the position of Minister of Education mere months after presiding over an illegal tribal court that gave away, as compensation, 5 girls between the ages of 2 and 5 years old. The Federal Minister for Defence Production, Sardar Abdul Qayyum, sent a message to Mukhtar Mai to drop all charges against the 13 men who gang raped her in 2002. She was raped on the orders of an illegal tribal court in punishment for an alleged crime of her 12-year-old brother. The message from the esteemed Minister was a warning that if she failed to drop the charges, he and his associates would make sure the case did not go in her favor. The case has been adjourned indefinitely by the Supreme Court.

Little to nothing has been mentioned in the mainstream media about the impact of this Sharia/peace deal on women, who are half the population. The Pakistani government has brokered a peace deal that is likely to crumble and leave nothing but the sanctioned obliteration of human rights.

The BBC published an article by M. Ilyas Khan, who wrote of the jubilation about the Sharia deal of many of the people; accompanying the article are images of men celebrating in the streets. Women are noticeably missing, and so are the thousands upon thousands who have fled the region in search of a safe haven, some walking down from the mountains in freezing temperatures with only the clothes on their backs. It is doubtful that these people will return to their homes now that the militants have effectively taken control.

The comments of one senior member of the TTP, Mohammed Iqbal, are indicative of a mentality that has little to do with reality and much more to do with religious fervor: "When Sharia is implemented, there will be peace, not only in Malakand but all over the world."







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Text and Images: Property of Natasha J. Lukanovich or contributors - Writers and Artists as Named