May issue 2009

By | News & Politics | Published 11 years ago

Pakistani security forces swung into action against the Taliban militants in parts of Malakand division, less than two weeks after the National Assembly gave a near unanimous seal of approval to the controversial Nizam-e-Adl Regulation, which was supposed to usher in an era of peace in this scenic region.

The boom of guns in lower Dir and Buner has, for all practical purposes, shattered whatever remote chance this contentious regulation had of ending the bloody conflict in Swat and its neighbouring areas.

“We want this agreement to work,” says a close aide of President Asif Ali Zardari. “Sufi Mohammad has been assigned the task of bringing peace in the area. This is a home-grown solution and we want to give it a chance.”

But, ironically, even as these words were being uttered in Islamabad on the eve of April 27, security forces were already on their way to weed out those Taliban militants who had seized Buner — a rugged town of Malakand division — located barely 60 miles from the federal capital, Islamabad.

The militants marched into Buner after the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation was signed, seizing government buildings and announcing plans of establishing their own writ in the region. They also went on an offensive in Dir — confirming apprehensions that the policy of appeasement and concessions had only served to embolden the militant elements.

As alarm bells rang from Karachi to Peshawar about the growing threat of the Taliban, the government continued to give mixed signals and vehemently defended the deal. But despite all its optimism, that Sufi Mohammad and his men would deliver peace in the region, the security forces launched the much-awaited operation in Dir and Buner on April 26 and 27, respectively, in which dozens of militants were killed in less than 48 hours of sporadic fighting.

Although the government and Sufi Mohammad are still trying to save the agreement, political analysts say that the authorities are back to square one.

This entire episode — from the signing of the controversial deal to the resumption of fighting — underlines the haphazard and confused government approach in dealing with the Taliban challenge.

After weeks of dragging his feet on the issue, on April 13 President Zardari finally signed the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation that established a parallel system of justice in the entire Malakand division.

Under this system, the Qazi courts do not recognise the common law of the country and there is a distinct gender bias in the name of religion.
The supporters of the Nizam-e-Adl argue that it administers quick justice, but its critics maintain that it creates a state within a state, and proposes draconian laws — ranging from death by stoning to flogging — in the name of Islam.

Zia Ahmed Awan, an eminent human rights activist and lawyer, suggests that rather than establishing a separate system which fans insecurities of not just minorities, but women as well, the common law needs to be made more efficient. “There should be no compromise on this issue,” he says.

Religious scholars also stand divided on the issue, because Shariah is interpreted differently by every sect.

Former law minister Iqbal Haider declares the Regulation unconstitutional. “Under the constitution, only the Islamic Ideology Council can recommend Islamic laws to the parliament. Individuals or small bands and organisations cannot do so,” says Haider. “If this is allowed, we will have a separate set of laws and a different version of the Shariah in every neighbourhood. This will lead to absolute chaos and anarchy.”

Critics of the Regulation also argue that it undermines the writ of the state, and encourages individuals and armed groups to dictate terms to the government through the barrel of the gun. The Regulation rang alarm bells not just in the civil society, but also within the international community, which sees this as the government’s capitulation to the Taliban. “I am increasingly, both concerned and frustrated at the progression of the danger [in Pakistan],” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Mike Mullen told the US media. Additionally, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a congressional panel that the situation in Pakistan posed a “mortal threat” to world security. She accused Pakistan of abdicating to the Taliban by allowing them to control parts of the country such as Swat.

Washington has become increasingly critical of what it views as Islamabad’s “soft approach” towards the militants. The change in tone, under the new Democratic set-up in Washington, should be of some concern to the Pakistani leadership which seems unable to convince its domestic detractors and foreign friends about its strategy to combat terrorism.

Analysts say that the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation has, in fact, emboldened the militants. They have not only refused to surrender weapons, they have now fanned out to the nearby areas of Swat, vowing to spread their narrow version of Islam.

Sufi Mohammad, who led the banned Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM) shocked the world when he said that there was no room for democracy in Islam, and that running for the elections and becoming members of Parliament were against the tenets of Islam. His views should not come as a surprise. Sufi Mohammad has been campaigning for the imposition of his brand of Islam in Malakand since the early 1990s. His militant TNSM has a history of violence and of defying the writ of the state. He was also responsible for leading 10,000 Pakistani youth into Afghanistan in 2002 to fight against the US-led forces. Hundreds of these men were killed or incarcerated and Sufi himself ran for his life and returned to Pakistan, only to be imprisoned by the former military government. The same man has now been given the important task of restoring peace and coaxing his son-in-law, Maulvi Fazlullah and his men to lay down their arms. For many, it is a sure recipe for disaster.

There were many worried faces in Islamabad as reports of the Taliban gaining ground made headlines in the media. The government’s inaction in the initial weeks caused widespread nervousness, and residents of Islamabad started to debate whether or not they should leave the capital. Later, the tough statement of the army chief General Ashfaq Kayani against the Taliban helped calm frayed nerves.

Terms of Surrender

The controversial Nizam-e-Adl Regulation, which both sides ensure will lead to peace in Swat, is being seen as a document of surrender before the militants by the ordinary public. While the full details of the Regulation are not available, and there have been some contradictary news reports on the contents of the agreement, these are the main terms as reported by the media.

The 17 points are:
1.    Action against drug dealers
2.    Campaign against obscenity and vulgarity
3.    Ban on music centres and vulgar CDs
4.    Closure of markets during prayer timings
5.    Ouster of women involved in immoral activities from Malakand division
6.    Action against profiteers, hoarders
7.    Creating awareness among people against social evils
8.    Quick disposal of public complaints
9.    Setting up rehabilitation centres for drug addicts
10.    Making arrangements for Quranic teachings and reforms in jails
11.    Campaign against bribery
12.    Uniting ulema from all schools of thought to work against sectarianism
13.    Taking steps to restore the public’s confidence in the police
14.    Looking after the rights of employees and employers
15.    Expulsion of corrupt and immoral police officials from Malakand division
16.    Installation of complaint boxes outside the offices of administrative officials
17.    Giving the right of inheritance of property to women

The PPP-led government, however, defended the agreement tooth-and-nail, brushing aside concerns regarding the country’s slide into chaos because of its “wheelings and dealings” with the militants.

The secular ANP has consistently been making the plea that the people of Swat are all for the Nizam-e-Adl system. If that were indeed the case how do they explain the fact that in the 2008 elections, all the national and provincial assembly seats of Malakand division were won by secular and liberal parties — the PPP, the ANP and the PML-Q.

The collective wisdom of our lawmakers in the National Assembly failed the nation as they approved a resolution supporting the Nizam-e-Adl within a couple of hours. The only voice of dissent came from the MQM, which vehemently opposed it. However, the MQM paved the way for the near unanimous passage of this resolution as its members boycotted the session rather than voting against it.

The National Assembly’s endorsement of the Nizam-e-Adl came as a shocker for many Pakistanis, who had pinned their hopes that lawmakers would ensure that it would not be allowed to sail through parliament. The vision of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah was betrayed by the National Assembly.
The herd mentality of the women parliamentarians, who should’ve been most concerned about the passage of this Regulation, but who chose to give it their approval, was appalling.

The double-speak and expediency of the mainstream political parties is ample proof of the fact that the national leadership does not have a strategy to combat terrorism. They lack both the will and the vision to deal with this challenge. It is a tried-and-tested truth that a policy of appeasement does not work with terrorists. They only use it to reorganise, re-group and raise the stakes. Had this not been the case, the past seven such deals, signed by consecutive governments since 2004, would not have been scrapped so unceremoniously.

The high hopes that a democratically elected and popular government would be in a far better position to fight extremism and terrorism are now turning into despair because the PPP-led government has so far failed to provide direction and leadership.

The credentials of this government have further eroded here as well as abroad. Washington and its allies have started voicing their concerns openly, and Pakistan is now being touted as the world’s most dangerous place.
This frightening image is taking its toll on every field — from economy and investment to sports. Pakistan is fast becoming a pariah state and every Pakistani who has a stake in this system is worried about his and the country’s future.

Although top government officials are trying to convey the impression that everything is under control, the ground reality appears to be totally different. President Zardari may be good at wheeling and dealing with politicians and rivals alike, but the same tactic will not necessarily work with terrorists.

Pakistan is paying a heavy price for the government’s inaction and unwillingness to take the bull by the horns. Whatever the ANP and PPP stalwarts might say to justify the Nizam-e-Adl, it has hit dead-end, even before its implementation. But the damage is done.

Is the government ready to learn from this experience and end the confusion in dealing with the Taliban and its allies?

The tidings from Islamabad are hardly encouraging. One cannot win this war without fighting it. And it appears that the PPP and its allies are not sure about how far they should go in this fight against extremism. The security forces surely act as bulwark against the terrorists, but they deliver only if the political leadership is ready to take ownership of this war. According to an analyst, the biggest success of the terrorists is that they are not letting the government win. The government should aim to win rather than capitulate to the terrorists’ demand.

Terms of Surrender

The controversial Nizam-e-Adl Regulation, which both sides ensure will lead to peace in Swat, is being seen as a document of surrender before the militants by the ordinary public. While the full details of the Regulation are not available, and there have been some contradictary news reports on the contents of the agreement, these are the main terms as reported by the media.

The 17 points are:
1.    Action against drug dealers
2.    Campaign against obscenity and vulgarity
3.    Ban on music centres and vulgar CDs
4.    Closure of markets during prayer timings
5.    Ouster of women involved in immoral activities from Malakand division
6.    Action against profiteers, hoarders
7.    Creating awareness among people against social evils
8.    Quick disposal of public complaints
9.    Setting up rehabilitation centres for drug addicts
10.    Making arrangements for Quranic teachings and reforms in jails
11.    Campaign against bribery
12.    Uniting ulema from all schools of thought to work against sectarianism
13.    Taking steps to restore the public’s confidence in the police
14.    Looking after the rights of employees and employers
15.    Expulsion of corrupt and immoral police officials from Malakand division
16.    Installation of complaint boxes outside the offices of administrative officials
17.    Giving the right of inheritance of property to women

Amir Zia is a senior Pakistani journalist, currently working as the Chief Editor of HUM News. He has worked for leading media organisations, including Reuters, AP, Gulf News, The News, Samaa TV and Newsline.