Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Deal in Swat

Not that the news coming out of Swat is good - no news coming out of Pakistan right now is good. It is perhaps that it is not as bad as is being reported - or perhaps bad, but in a different kind of way.

Some history. Swat belongs to the Malakand region which is a Provincially Administered Tribal Area (PATA) - as opposed to the now well known Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA). As with FATA the writ of the government is rather weak. Until 1969 it was a princely state with its own separate administration and its own set of rather regressive laws. This was especially true for the laws of inheritance which prevented women from inheriting property. Sharia laws on inheritance extended to Swat in 1976 were a major improvement. Or rather they would have been if they had been implemented. It was not until the mid 1980's that the laws began to be implemented but there was an incredible amount of confusion that meant that even simple inheritance cases would take years to get decided. The situation was a godsend for the Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) which used the discontent of the population to push for the full implementation of Sharia in the Malakand Agency. In 1994 Benazir Bhutto acquiesed introduced the Nifaz-i-Nizam-i-Shariah regulations. Recall that this was happening in the context of the "Islamization" brought upo by our favorite dictator Zia-ul-Haq. Later, with Nawaz Sharif as prime minister the regulations were updated as the Nizam-i-Adl 1999. In practice nothing much had really changed.
The two regulations provided only for a judicial mechanism, but they changed little in substance. Only the designation of judges was changed to qazis. Those were normal courts working within the ambit of Pakistani laws and the constitution. No convict was ever lashed or his hands chopped off.
According to Dawn nothing much has changed in the new Nizam-i-Adl 2009 regulations:
Dawn has a copy of the last draft that has been seen and approved by President Asif Ali Zardari, who after initial reservations over possible objections from the US finally gave the go-ahead to the ANP government to sign the deal with Sufi Muhammad.The newer version is a further improvement on the older ones. Not only does it provide for an increase in the number of courts, it also provides a timeframe to dispose of criminal and civil cases within four months and six months, respectively.

The only contentious issue of Muawin Qazi or additional judge, which some thought would open the gates of the judiciary to the clergy, has been removed.

As things are, the Pakistan Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code in their existing form will remain enforced in Malakand, unless the Council of Islamic Ideology declares them un-Islamic.
The Pakistan government, and as I understand it, the US government sees the agreement as providing a breathing space for the Pakistanis as well as a wedge to drive between Sufi Mohammed, the leader of TSNM, and his much more powerful and violent son-in-law the leader of the Pakistani Taleban (Tehrik-e-Taleban-e-Pakistan - TTP) Fazlullah. The Pakistani army was not doing that well and the population which is not particularly religious (in the Taleban sense) was turning against them. Before they start celebrating though they might wish to consult their Saul Alinski. The one issue that was exercising the people of Swat was the delay in getting justice. Because of Sufi Mohammed their problem might get resolved. This gives Mohammed and his supporters a cachet that might come to bite the government. In the short term though there is peace in the Swat valley. The schools including the girls schools are set to open. In the long term the prospects don't look too good. But one can always hope. Right?

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