[Residents in Mingora, Swat distribute sweets in celebration of the deal]
On Monday, Pakistan agreed to suspend military offensives and impose Islamic law in the Malakand region [which includes Swat Valley], “making a gesture it hopes will help calm the Taliban insurgency while rejecting Washington’s call for tougher measures against militants,” reported the Associated Press. According to the news agency, “A U.S. defense official called the deal ‘a negative development,’ and some Pakistani experts expressed skepticism the truce would decrease violence.” Athar Minallah, a lawyer and civil rights activist, told the AP, “This is simply a great surrender, a surrender to a handful of forces who work through rough justice and brute force…Who will be accountable for those hundreds of people who have been massacred in Swat? And they go and recognize these forces as a political force. This is pathetic.”
Today, a number of news agencies released op-eds commenting on the development. Several included a background of the FATA and Swat Valley in their pieces. Shahan Mufti at Global Post noted that Swat’s history is similar to the tribal areas in some ways. Like the tribal region, Swat was also once an autonomous area, with independent judicial and political systems. In 1969, however, Swat Valley joined Pakistan as regular territory. Mufti wrote:
Part of what the Swati people lost with joining Pakistan were their local judicial system of “qazi” courts, which closely followed Islamic law. And the British styled Pakistani judicial system has never completely established itself in the region. Swat has had periodic uprisings through the decades to restore the old order and through the 90’s there were similar deals between the government and armed political groups to restore the old law.
The most recent cease-fire is seen by some as a tactical move by the government to simmer down fighting as legislative elections approach in about two weeks and a street protest movement against the government is planned for mid-March. Some others say that the government is bowing to pressure from militants. Regardless, the move is likely to be supported by many Pakistanis and the government might win some much needed points for restoring peace — if this really does lead to peace.
Shaheen Sardar Ali raised an interesting question in today’s Dawn:
A few basic questions demand answers. Are the people of Swat and Malakand a different breed of Muslims to the rest of the province and the country? One hopes not. If we are all God-fearing Muslims and if Sharia as defined by Sufi Mohammad et al, is the only way forward for peace and prosperity, then ought we not, as a country, embrace it? Why try it out only in Malakand; why not simultaneously in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Multan? Democracy and the will of the people carries no meaning if gun-toting individuals can legitimately take over a population.
The Nation also underscored the issue of the government allowing a parallel legal system to operate in Malakand, noting that “it would be bad practice,” for a system to be introduced “over and above” the Pakistani Parliament. The editors also differentiated between the overarching Taliban organization, TNSM, [who operate over Malakand Division] and its sister organization’s actions in Swat. Will the Taliban in Swat, under Mullah Fazlullah, continue to deprive young girls of an education? The Nation noted,
The hydra-headed militancy in the region does not speak with one voice. Schools continued to burn during the last peace move in Swat and the Taliban accused other groups to be involved. Will the agreement be acceptable to all militant groups? Will some of them not continue to fight till Sharia of their liking is imposed all over the country?
According to BBC News’ M Ilyas Khan, Monday’s development “inspired both jubilation and widespread concern.” He noted, “Human rights groups fear that parallel systems of justice lead to social fragmentation and will hurt civil society in the long run.”
Nevertheless, he reported, many people in Swat were relieved to hear of a temporary end to the fighting. An acquaintance of Khan wrote to him, “The sun is out after weeks of winter rains, and the people are celebrating on the streets, because there are no soldiers on the streets and no mullahs in the back alleys.” Munir, an administrator in Swat, wrote in a BBC Diary, “On Saturday our family was about to leave the village but when we heard that the government was going to promulgate Islamic Sharia law in Swat we were very happy, very excited. We decided to stay. It might not mean the end of fear but it will mean the end of violence here.” Ilyas Khan added, “…there is considerable war fatigue in Swat, and people would be happy to live under any system provided there is peace.”