April Issue 2009

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 12 years ago

On April 2, Newsline received a very disturbing video clip — shot with a mobile phone — of a 17-year-old girl being flogged ruthlessly by the Taliban in Kala Killey, a small hamlet in Shah Dherai town in Swat.

What was extremely traumatising was the fact that while the girl sobbed uncontrollably and begged to be spared the humiliation or be killed, a dozen or so men watching this “gory spectacle” did not raise a murmur of protest or lift a finger.

Everyone, it appears, has been silenced into submission by the Taliban guns, including the ruling ANP government.  It was shocking to hear an ANP spokesperson remark that the incident had taken place before the Swat peace agreement, and that the video clip released by a Pakhtun activist to TV channels was intended to scuttle the deal.

Did the incident, whether it happened now or six months back, not warrant consideration or condemnation? Or should it have been relegated to the backburner forever?
The Jamaat-i-Islami’s (JI) new amir wondered why TV channels were making such a song-and-dance about it.  He took the anchors to task for not condemning the Lal Masjid operation and the US drone attacks in which several girls died.

TV channels have harped on the “ruthlessness” of the Lal Masjid operation and vociferously condemned the drone attacks — we are all witness to that. So did the maulana actually suffer a memory lapse or was he trying to circumvent the issue and avoid taking a position on it?

As the head of a religio-political party, he could at least have questioned the manner in which justice was meted out: Was it in keeping with the Shariah?  Where were the four witnesses to the crime? Was the girl allowed to present her case?  Where was the man who had committed adultery with her?  Why were three men, and strangers at that, holding her arms and legs? Was that acceptable in Islam, especially when the reason cited for her punishment was that she had stepped out with her father-in-law? Was flogging women publicly acceptable in Islam? Incidentally, a more hip maulana, a former JI activist, went into an insensitive discussion on how the girl should’ve been flogged — whether it was appropriate to flog her face down, or face up, or preferably seated “as prescribed by the Shariah.”

As usual, the Jamaat played politics with religion — and left it at that.  It was left to an enlightened religious scholar to ask all these extremely pertinent questions. He, in fact, questioned the credentials of the people who had meted out justice.

Yes, indeed, who are they? Just because they have served/or serve as foot soldiers of the Pakistan Army in Afghanistan and India, should they be given carte blanche to do as they will?

If the ANP was hoping to rein in the Taliban by thrashing out a peace deal with the Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat Mohammadi in Swat, and replicating it elsewhere, that hasn’t happened.  In fact, it has emboldened them further: they are now striking in the heart of the Punjab, hoping to extend their sphere of influence further and further, by striking terror in the hearts of people.

So, are we going to stop them in their tracks or are we going to capitulate and accede some more territory to them?

The video clip of the 17-year-old remains etched in memory. And if that memory does not spur the government, the army and civil society into action, we will have lost the battle to the dark forces that are determined to take the country down with them.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.