The News, Feb 22, 2009
Caving in to obscurantism – yet again
By Omar R. Quraishi
The so-called peace deal reached between the ANP government and the leader of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, Maulana Sufi Mohammad, in Swat is nothing more than an abject surrender to the forces of militancy and obscurantism in the country. As expected, it has ended up polarising society – many people heaving a sigh of relief that now the violence would perhaps end, while others have been dismayed by what they see as the government's surrender to the rapidly increasing wave of Talibanisation. The most obvious question that comes to mind – and it was encapsulated well by a reader of this newspaper – Bilal Habib of Washington DC – who sent in a letter where he asked the government of Pakistan that would be it agree to implement Sharia if, say, the people of Larkana or Karachi also demanded its imposition?
In addition to this I have several other questions – but is there anyone to address them?
1. The announcement by the NWFP chief minister that all 'un-Islamic laws' stood abolished forthwith was confusing to say the least because given that the 1973 Constitution carries with it the Objective Resolution, it is understood that no law can be legislated or promulgated in the country if against Islam – so what in the world was the NWFP chief minister talking about? What laws existed prior to this deal which were anti-Islamic? Could the chief minister or his press secretary kindly give details of all such laws which were against Islam and which have now been struck off the statute book?
2. What is going to happen to Mullah Fazlullah and his accomplices such as Muslim Khan and Mullah Shah Dowran. The last one was known to be particularly good at beheading people, which the Swat Taliban did in ample numbers? Will the NWFP government try all those who took part in the beheadings and orchestrated them in a court of law or does it plan to announce a general amnesty? The chief minister was asked this question at the press conference on Feb 16 in Peshawar when he made the deal public and he conveniently side-stepped it by saying that it was "too early" to say what would happen to Fazlullah and his men. This could well mean that the NWFP government is not particularly averse to the idea of pardoning these men.
3. What does the government intend on doing about punishing the murderers of Shabana and several other women who were allegedly first raped and then murdered by the militants after being labelled as prostitutes? What does it intend doing with regard to the murders of several of the ANP's own activists and relatives of ANP office-bearers who laid their lives fighting the Taliban?
4. Does the NWFP government plan to do anything about the many beheading that were carried out in some of Swat's main towns and villages? Many were members of the FC or the police and some were innocent civilians – what message is the so-called peace deal going to send to the relatives and families of those who died such ghastly deaths if the perpetrators of these atrocities are going to be pardoned?
5. What is the point in having elected representatives for any region in the country when one finds a group of armed militants going around killing people and burning schools and forcing their version of religion down the rest of the populace and instead of clamping down on them and taking them head-on, the government agrees to their demands?
6. By the same logic, if a group holding similar views was to hold a city hostage, would the government then agree to its demands as well? What is to prevent armed militants and obscurantist from doing the same thing in other parts of the country? (And who knows, they may well be planning to do this, at least in other parts of NWFP – especially other settled districts borders FATA such as Tank, Hangu, Dera Ismail Khan and Kohat.)
7. Why has Kohistan, which is part of Hazara, been included in this arrangement? Should we in the not-so-distant future see sharia being imposed in places like Mansehra, Abbotabad and Haripur – all are part of Hazara and the latter less than an hour's drive from Islamabad.
8. There have been some in the media who have used history as an argument for justifying the deal. They have said that in the past, prior to Swat's merger with Pakistan, the princely state used to have a similar system and that the arrangement now would be similar to that. Well, if that is the case, why not hold a referendum? Or have the NWFP assembly pass legislation to give legal cover to the deal? Isn't that far better than doing it because one has been pushed into a corner by rabid extremists?
9. What impression/message/signal is the NWFP government sending to the rest of the country and indeed to the militants? Will they not be emboldened by this and use similar tactics to spread their tentacles to the rest of the country?
In the end, I would like to quote a couple of people on this issue – from a mailing list. One is a well-known researcher and academic who writes in English newspapers while the other is a well-known actress/activist, who has also written in the media on and off.
First the researcher/academic: "The message being sent is that if you challenge the writ of the state, develop a private militia, engage in beheading, murder and rape, sooner or later the government will capitulate to your demands in order to procure peace. What message is going out to other groups in Punjab, Balochistan or Sindh – that all they have to do is to take up arms and the state will cave in to their demands to set up a state within a state? One wonders why a large and highly-equipped army could not control a bunch of criminals. I think that the faulty 'strategic depth' and 'bleed India with a thousand cuts' theories still guide the decisions of our establishment."
And the activist/actress wrote: "How is it possible to engage in a completely undemocratic process engendered by a 'jirga' which excludes half the population? The minister for social welfare, a woman, was not allowed to attend the proceedings of the jirga simply because she was a woman.… How can we as a nation accept a process and ultimately a result which is prejudicial and poised to further exclude women from decision-making processes which not only affect their lives but also the manner in which many of them are killed for supposed transgressions of the moral order? Is it not clear that this accord is opening the door to willingly allowing, indeed, inviting militant fundamentalism to become the dominant ideology of the state? Will it amount to legitimisation of a medieval mindset which has endorsed and committed savage acts against the populace it supposedly aims to bring into the fold of Sharia? And whose Sharia is to be imposed? What about the right of a woman to receive an education, to marry of her own accord, to divorce? Will these Sharia rights be respected under the patriarchal misogynist order of things to come?"
The writer is Editorial Pages Editor of The News. Email: email@example.com