Posts Tagged ‘Judiciary’

Via the Huffington Post

Just two weeks ago, Pakistan’s Supreme Court delivered a stunning sentence – acquitting five of the six men who had gang raped Mukhtar Mai, a woman brave enough to not only tell her story, but give voice to other voiceless and abused victims of sexual violence. Despite the news cycle unanimously shifting its attention to the death of Osama bin Laden, the recent developments surrounding the Mukhtar Mai case are still newsworthy, and deserve continued attention. Below, Hamza Khan, a political consultant based in Washington, D.C. who tweets @TheModernRumi, weighs in with his opinion on the decision:

On April 22, the Pakistan Supreme Court issued a decision acquitting five convicted gang-rapists in the Mukhtar Mai case, citing “a lack of evidence.”

The decision was a horrific ending to a courageous woman’s nine year struggle for dignity and justice in a country that appears to value neither.

In the face of overwhelming physical evidence, hundreds of witnesses, and even a signed confession, a bench of three men acquitted without merit five out of six other men convicted of the gang rape of a woman who has since been subject to harassment, illegal detainment, and psychological torture in her decade long struggle for justice.

My mother is a Pakistani, and I was in Pakistan visiting family when Mukhtar Mai’s case broke in the news. Today, I write as her son to share my vitriolic outrage, and to say that this case is personal for me. It’s personal for sons who have mothers, and all brothers who have sisters. The story of Mukhtaran Mai is the story of all women–and men–who have experienced or witnessed sexual violence.

Mai’s ordeal began in 2002 when a ‘panchayat‘ [assembly] in her native village of Meerwala decided to punish her 12 year old brother for either disrespecting or having an affair with a female member of the Jatoi clan–the allegations have not always been clear.

The subsequent ruling by this alternative judicial forum was two-fold: Mukhtaran Mai’s brother would be anally raped (sodomized), and she would be gang-raped by six men in front of onlookers and made to parade naked in the streets.

What’s curious to mention here is the blatant disregard for proving the allegations against Mukhratan Mai’s brother to be  true. The panchayat made no attempts to verify the presented evidence, and instead proceeded on hearsay– ironically similar to how the Supreme Court of Pakistan would later rule that its lower courts convicted the panchayat‘s members without hard evidence.

Moreover, while the conviction of Mukhtaran Mai’s brother by tribal and local elders had no solid evidence beyond hearsay, there were over 50 witnesses to the gang-rape itself, and over 100 witnesses stood by as a naked, humiliated Mukhtaran Mai emerged from the hovel where she was raped. This recent Supreme Court decision is therefore tainted by male privilege and petty revenge.

These ills are rooted in something much more repugnant than cultural tradition. Pakistan is a country where less than five percent of all cases of violence against women end in conviction.

Mukhtar Mai is just the latest victim of a vicious political cycle dominated by boys with toys whose indifference towards women puts to shame even the misogyny on display by Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s Amazonian Guard or Italian premier Sylvio Beresculoni’s incessant affairs with teenagers.

Last year, reports show a double digit increase in gang-rapes across the country, and one-third of all victims in Pakistan were raped by multiple persons (i.e., gang raped). More than half the country’s rapes were minors,  and 43% of rape victims last year were under the age of 16. Every two hours there is a rape in Pakistan. Every eight, that rape is a gang-rape. We are witnessing in real-time the moral decay of an entire nation, and no one seems to know just what to do to stop it.

Mukhtaran Mai has announced her decision to appeal the apex court’s verdict for review. Whatever the outcome, she now lives only a few miles away from the tribal elders who took her as property and object, not flesh and bone like their own mothers. It is only until Pakistanis confront the deep enmity their society is developing for their mothers and sisters and wives that the country will truly begin to heal from the disasters it has faced in succession over the past few years.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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I've got my eye on you, Ifti...

In the past several weeks, political developments concerning the Pakistani Constitution – specifically the 18th Amendment – have garnered much media attention in the country. Below though, Usman Zafar, an Islamabad-based producer for Express 24/7, probes this subject further to assess the much deeper divide and conflict between Pakistan’s judiciary and government:

The cat and mouse game between the Supreme Court and the government has just reached new levels. We all knew the Apex Court’s decision to declare the National Reconciliation Ordinance null and void would roll heads, but to see things get to this level is just unnerving, not just for the government, but also for the public, which has grown accustomed to decisions as PR gimmicks in disguise. But the Supreme Court has made it clear that the NRO verdict is anything but a PR stunt and has put the National Accountability Bureau in the hot seat, demanding that action be taken on all the NRO cases, particularly the dreaded Swiss cases pertaining to President Asif Ali Zardari.

As a result, the state’s accountability institutions have gone haywire. NAB, the Law Ministry, and the Attorney General’s Office are in a constant fix, twisting themselves into a corner as they explain the delay in the implementation of the case. Although NAB first said it had sent the letter to the Swiss government to reopen the case, the Attorney General later admitted no letter was sent because of issues with the Law Ministry, a confession that led to his eventual resignation.

The increasing rift between the government and the judiciary has been developing for some time now. The first few blows were struck by the Supreme Court back in 2006, when it decided to open the Pakistan Steel Mills case against the will of the government. It was undoubtedly the reason why Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was removed from his position, then reinstated, then removed again during the November 2007 Emergency, and then reinstated yet again after much internal and external pressure.

The last reinstatement subsequently created bad blood between the judiciary and the government, and whether they like to admit it, the President and the Chief Justice of Pakistan are not each other’s biggest fans. Mr. Chaudhry holds a grudge against the President for refusing to reinstate him until the Lawyers movement took its toll on the government in March 2009. And Mr. Zardari holds a grudge against the Chief Justice for outlawing the very legislation that allowed him to reach the halls of the Presidency. And since both command their respective institutions, an institutional bar brawl of sorts has been taking place for months. We saw it in the NRO verdict. We saw it in the judicial appointments controversy. And now we are seeing it in the Swiss cases follow-up.

The majority of the public sees this as a crucial and necessary process, to purge the state of corrupt practices, and return purity and virtue to the corridors of power.

But the Supreme Court is not taking action against one man. It is taking action against an entire institution, one that has adhered to nefarious actions and unscrupulous practices for far too long, and like any institution, is constantly involved in self-preservation. The biggest proof of this can be seen in the oft-claimed Holy Grail of political achievements, the Constitutional Reforms Package, a bill which promises to end to all political turmoil the country. But while everyone’s talking about Pakhtunkhwa and the 17th amendment, the bill also mentions a reduction in penalties for convicted felons who wish to become public office holders. Under current legislation, anyone who has committed crimes is barred from becoming a public office holder for life. But under the constitutional reforms bill, the life ban will now be shortened to only five years. This essentially means the constitutional reforms package will not only grant amnesty to those who committed crimes in the past, but it will also open the door for felons who wish to become part of our government after just a few years. And we thought the days of the NRO were history!

At the end of the day, institutions will protect themselves, even if it is at the expense of others. And right now, the government is in a fight-or-flight mode on the Swiss cases, and the time for flight is over. There will be a subsequent battle of wills, and when push comes to shove, it is the nation that will suffer the consequences.

Whether or not Zardari gets convicted seems irrelevant compared to the near disastrous ramifications. We are already going through a security crisis, a water shortage, a power shortfall, and imminent food famine, to name a few. Can we really afford a clash of the country’s institutions, even if it is in the name of accountability? Is it worth risking our very stability, when the country is balanced on a knife’s edge?

The truth is that nothing good will come out of this conflict, because it will not end with the return of accountability, but instead institutional chaos, a far more disturbing development. These shockwaves will be felt not just in the corridors of power, but also among the citizens of the country, who will find themselves embroiled in yet another era of instability. This in turn may lead to a kind of political vacuum that typically precede military coups. While I’m not saying bad behavior should not be punished, I do believe that the cost of punishing such behavior is far heavier than we think. We would be naïve to think otherwise.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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Telenovela Pakistan

Confrontation. Show-down. Crisis. Judicial coup.

Those were just some of the saucy terms used to describe Pakistan’s recent row last week, when President Asif Ali Zardari named judges to be appointed to Pakistan’s Supreme Court and Lahore High Court without first consulting Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. The Supreme Court called the move unconstitutional and blocked it, sparking conflict and rumors of impending “crisis” and instability. The row was cut short when Pakistan’s very own political magician PM Yousaf Raza Gilani came to the rescue, announcing the government “would go along” with the Supreme Court’s recommendations, assuring all of us, “It is completely over.”

Ha, that’s what you think, Jadoogar.

AP: "Mwahahaha." *Twirl, twirl.*

If there’s one thing about Pakistani politics, it’s that it’s anything but boring. In fact, the machismo-infused, handlebar-twirling scenarios are more comparable to a Mexican soap opera than a democratically elected government. Just when we think stability is restored, we tune into yet another episode of grown men screaming, cackling, switching alliances, and in some cases, crying. Because let’s face it. Zardari and Chaudhry are two burly moustached men who just can’t get along. As Dawn columnist Cyril Almeida noted last week, “The trend that the latest row fit into and the manner of the détente suggest that inevitably there will be another clash. The details of any given eruption or paroxysm aren’t all that important anymore.” The Chief Justice may have been the symbol of Pakistan’s judicial crisis, but his arguably politicized judgments and trump cards make him a far cry from a judiciary’s objective poster child. In fact, he is, according to some accounts, a key ally of Nawaz Sharif, who recently called Zardari “the biggest threat to democracy,” though the PML-N leader did tell reporters after a recent meeting with Gilani that this criticism wasn’t “personal.” Hmmm right.

In in the latest episode of Telenovela Pakistan, Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin resigned from his position “in order to focus on his business.” According to the Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Tarin said he will now work for Silkbank, a private bank in which he’s a major shareholder.” However, despite this statement, the development came on the heels of rumors that it was instead sparked by policy differences with the government. The Financial Times cited a source close to Tarin, who said his resignation “has to do with the government once again dragging its feet on a [tax] clampdown…They just don’t understand. You can’t allow tax dodgers to go free. This is a massive setback for Pakistan’s economy.”

As the drama continues, don’t forget about the figures on the sidelines. Because in every deliciously bad soap opera, exited characters are never gone forever. They are inevitably waiting in the wings, twirling their handlebar moustaches and cackling madly. Cue former President Pervez Musharraf, properly moustached out and undoubtedly smirking at the current state of affairs. In the below interview with CNN, he discusses his increasing Facebook stardom [see this former CHUP post], noting, “It is THE Facebook that provides the connectivity to collectivize all [my] support.” On the current situation and whether he’ll return to Pakistani politics, Mush vaguely responds, “At this moment, Pakistan is not doing well. So if I can contribute anything to the country and if the people want me to contribute, then I’d certainly like to look into that.”

Translation: THE Facebook. Take me home.

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In a landmark decision today, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that former President Pervez Musharraf‘s declaration of emergency rule on November 3, 2007 was unconsitutional. GEO News reported,

A 14-member larger bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry heard the constitutional petitions regarding PCO judges, appointments of judges of higher judiciary and November 3, 2007 steps. The verdict said that sacking of the judges was illegal and unconstitutional. Article 279 of the Constitution was violated on November 3, 2007...The Supreme Court termed the steps taken on November 3, 2007 as null and void.

Hamid Khan, former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and a lawyer representing a petition filed by the Sindh Bar Association against the emergency order, told reporters after the decision, “All the judges who took the oath under the provisional constitutional order of Nov. 3 were unconstitutional judges, their appointment as judges is canceled.”

Although other leaders of the lawyers’ movement, like Aitzaz Ahsan, noted the decision will have “far- reaching implications,” it is still unclear just what exactly will happen next. According to Al Jazeera, Friday’s ruling “may strengthen the case for bringing treason charges against the former military ruler…” However, as noted by Dawn, “any charges of treason against Musharraf would have to come from parliament. The previous parliament had endorsed Musharraf’s actions.”

Therefore, the ruling, while significant, begs the question – what now? Will the rulings of the PCO judges still stand if their appointments were deemed illegal? Is it contradictory to rule the firing of judges illegal by firing more judges? Finally, what will happen with the National Reconciliation Ordinance? What are your thoughts?

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[Image from NY Times]

Not too long ago, Pakistan state television aired PM Yousaf Raza Gilani‘s speech, officially announcing what we all knew a few hours ago – that the government is restoring Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, effective March 21. The wait for the pre-recorded speech was long, to say the least, [people on twitter and Teeth Maestro’s live chat waited for a good three hours from when the news broke].

Here are the positives – the CJP will be restored, hence fulfilling the primary objective of the judiciary movement and the Long March.  Moreover, reported GEO News, “The prime minister said that after consultations with all political forces of the country and President Asif Ali Zardari, the government has decided to restore all deposed judges,” not just Chaudhry. In his speech, Gilani said the reason Chaudhry was not restored before was because “the office of the Chief Justice was occupied.” However, because current Chief Justice Dogar will retire March 21 , “it is therefore the right time to reinstate Iftikhar,” he asserted. Gilani also announced that provincial governments have been ordered to lift Section 144 [banning protests and marches] and release all detained prisoners, another plus given how many activists and lawyers were jailed amid this weekend’s tumultuous developments.

Interestingly, a government official told Reuters that along with Chaudhry’s reinstatement “there will also be a constitutional package,” although no mention of such a deal was made in Gilani’s address. There was also no mention of the future of Salman Taseer, the [unpopular] governor of Punjab [see this interesting article about Taseer’s son], although the PM did note in his speech that the Supreme Court decisions of Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif will be reviewed. That announcement marked a definite victory for the PML-N and its supporters, and Nawaz subsequently called off Monday’s planned march to Islamabad.

Media outlets have reported that the military played a prominent role in today’s announcement, albeit from behind the scenes. According to Dawn,

Highly placed sources said that the Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani frankly told both President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani that they need to undo some of controversial decisions before the situation spirals out of control. These sources said it was after his not-so-veiled warning that the two top civilian leaders agreed to roll-back some of the controversial decisions of the previous and present governments, including the sacking of the chief justice of Pakistan.

The NY Times noted that the COAS emphasized “he wants to keep the army out of politics, but there was renewed speculation about how long the patience of the army would hold,” while the Reuters blog, Pakistan: Now or Never echoed my sentiments exactly: “…the deal to reinstate Chaudhry may have been achieved as a result of prodding from the Pakistan Army, which begs the question of how well civilian democracy can flourish in Pakistan if it has to be underwritten by the country’s powerful military. His promised reinstatement — announced after days of negotiations — may carry with it a political deal whose outcome and required allegiances we are yet to discover.”

What I found both fascinating and infuriating in Gilani’s speech was how he framed the PPP and President Zardari. Not only did he congratulate Bilawal and Asif Zardari for “Pakistan’s achievements today,” but he glorified the party’s role in the judiciary movement, noting, “the lawyers and the PPP had been together for the cause of justice and democracy…Benazir Bhutto wanted free judiciary and supremacy of the constitution and she had promised for his restoration. PPP respects the educated segment of the society.”

The effort to frame the government and Zardari in a positive light [by reminding the people of Benazir’s role] is not surprising but still appalling given the police’s treatment of the lawyers and activists this weekend. With technology tools like blogs, live chats, and twitter, reports of police beatings and detainments were abound. The most shocking allegations were those related to the treatment of female activists in the Long March. According to a March 13 press release by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan [HRCP]:

Not only lawyers and their supporters are being denied their right to freedom of movement, those joining peaceful processions are being subjected to violence. Neither women nor senior citizens are being spared. HRCP strongly condemns the use of brute force on Ms. Musarrat Hilali, not only because she is HRCP vice-chairperson for Frontier province but also because she is a widely respected advocate and has done a lot for the have-nots in Peshawar and across the country. The police had no right to break into her house and intimidate and abuse her family members.

And here’s the heart-wrenching exchange between civil rights activist Tahira Abdullah and Sherry Rehman [a day before her resignation], in which Abdullah breaks down and accused the right hand of the PPP of not knowing what the left hand is doing:

The Long March’s victory today was not because of the PPP – it was in spite of the government’s attempts to thwart the people’s movement. It succeeded despite the state’s attempts to beat, block and detain its own population from voicing their protests. The achievements today, despite what happens next in Pakistan’s political arena, lie with the people of the Long March – not with the politicians. As someone who took part in Teeth Maestro‘s incredible live chat and carefully followed this weekend’s developments, I can state with certainty that I have never witnessed people so dedicated to a cause. Their resolve to hold the government accountable for its promises did not falter – and that was incredibly inspiring. In a CS Monitor blog entry Sunday, Ben Arnoldy wrote, “‘I don’t think in the United States people would ever rally in the streets around a group of lawyers. Where I come from, lawyers aren’t very popular,’ I told one advocate over a cup of tea. He laughed heartily, and said, ‘Even little children here are saying ‘independent judiciary.‘”

I’m not going to mar my write-up today with my usual pragmatic cynicism. Instead, I will end this post with a heart-felt congratulations to all those who supported and were involved in the Long March. This is the tremendous victory you all were working towards, and I sincerely hope it means more positive things – at least for the future of our country’s judiciary. As a fellow citizen, I thank you for your efforts and your sacrifices.

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Day 2 of the Long March

[Image from the NY Times]

The Long March began from Karachi and Quetta yesterday amid further police crackdowns, reports of torture, and numerous arrests. According to BBC News today, “Authorities in Pakistan’s north-west have banned political gatherings and a protest convoy [led by Supreme Court Bar Association president Ali Ahmed Kurd] has been halted in Sindh as a crackdown on activists spreads. The BBC quoted Kurd, who strongly condemned the Sindh government for halting their peaceful march, adding, “We will try to reach Islamabad by other routes and appeal to all Pakistanis to reach Islamabad in groups or as individuals by any possible means. This action of the government has shown to the people of Pakistan and the entire world that lawyers cannot move freely in their own country.”

Dozens of lawyers and political leaders were arrested in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) overnight.” Although the movement was supposed to reach Islamabad for a sit-in at the Parliament on Monday, the BBC’s Syed Shoaib Hasan noted “that while protests will continue throughout Pakistani cities and activists may try to reach the capital in small groups, the crackdown has effectively ended the ‘long march.'” Protest organizers told the BBC that more than 1,000 opposition leaders and activists have already been jailed or put under house arrest, and police last night arrested dozens of lawyers, political leaders, legislators and activists in the districts of Peshawar, Mardan, Abbottabad and Mansehra last night. Dawn quoted Arshad Qureshi, PML-N spokesman of the NWFP, who said, “More than 100 party leaders and workers were arrested in the province and police are raiding houses of party leaders and activists.” And it’s not just activists and lawyers who are being targeted, apparently. Curiously [or not so curiously, depending who you talk to] the transmission of Geo News has been blocked in some parts of the twin cities of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Quetta. (more…)

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Media outlets reported that Pakistani police launched a crackdown on Wednesday, arresting dozens of opposition activists and lawyers and forbidding demonstrations on the eve of the Long March. According to Dawn newspaper, “Thirty five political activists and lawyers were arrested in Islamabad during raids launched overnight and continuing beyond daybreak.” [News agencies did differ on the numbers of those arrested, with the NY Times reporting that an “estimated 300” activists were detained.]

Those rounded up include members of Nawaz Sharif’s opposition party PML-N. A senior police official told the AFP, “The government has provided lists of people to police and raids are being made to arrest them.” Other police sources told news agencies that a top PML-N figure, Raja Zafarul Haq, was placed under house arrest last night, and Dawn added, “Police dressed in civilian clothes attempted to arrest lawyers’ movement leader Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan from his residence early Wednesday morning but he was not present at the time.” The news agency noted, “Many lawyers and MPs have gone into hiding to avoid detention, and were unreachable by telephone at their homes and offices. Police also searched in vain for cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who lives just outside the capital.” [Image from the AP] (more…)

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As if the recent political turmoil and last week’s attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team weren’t enough, media outlets on Monday cited Interior Ministry Chief Rehman Malik, who threatened PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif with charges of “sedition for inciting people to rebellion” after the Supreme Court’s controversial decisions last week, [which nullified Shahbaz’s election and declined to rule on a challenge to Nawaz’s electoral ban, see related post]. According to GEO News, Malik “said the statement being issued by the Sharif brothers qualify to fall within the definition of mutiny. He said anyone inciting provocation against the government can be awarded three year punishment under Pakistan Penal Code while anyone waging mutiny may be sentenced for life.” [Image, AP]

Media outlets framed the statements in light of Pakistan’s Long March, a cross-country lawyers’ protest slated to begin Thursday and reach Islamabad by next Monday. Reuters quoted Malik, who told reporters, “If in this long march, any death takes place or anyone’s property is damaged … then those who are bearing the flag of sedition or have borne it, then a police compliant [FIR] will be registered.” Dawn, in its coverage, noted, “The government on Monday stuck to its previous stance that it will not allow participants of the lawyers’ Long March from proceeding to the parliament house.” The news agency added, “Analysts believed that the prevailing political turmoil in the country will be further aggravated when the Long March reaches Islamabad on March 16, and it will not be allowed to enter into the federal capital. They foresee clashes between the security forces and the protesters, which may turn violent.”

In today’s news conference, Malik reportedly “cited the relevant sections of Pakistan penal code,” noted the AFP, “saying that expressing hatred or contempt against the federal or provincial government was punishable by life imprisonment.” The news agency reported, “He [Malik] read out phrases from speeches he said Nawaz Sharif has made since the Supreme Court disqualified him and his brother from contesting elections and holding public office. Sharif has made speeches calling on the police not to obey government orders and attacked judges who disqualified him saying he does not recognize the rulings of the Supreme Court — the highest in the country.”

Today’s statements are likely to exacerbate tensions further, which will hold negative ramifications for other arenas in Pakistan, including the economy. According to Reuters, “Pakistani stocks ended 1.5 percent lower on Monday as cautious investors sold shares on worry about political instability, dealers said.” Moreover, noted the news agency, “The main Karachi index has lost 3.5 percent this year after a 58.3 percent fall in 2008.” Given our burgeoning economic crisis, further political instability will be problematic, to say the least.

As for me, I feel like I am watching a comedy of errors, a car accident in slow motion. That sensation is both endlessly tragic and infinitely frustrating. Malik’s statements will only garner a stronger response from the already-fiery opposition, who are riding the wave of the country’s judiciary movement and upcoming Long March. The cycle of tensions and instability will undoubtedly continue until one or both sides are left toppled. Regardless of what the government’s intentions were with today’s announcement, watching the state wielding an iron fist with words like “life imprisonment” and “mutiny” will only incite further indignation and anger among segments of the populace. Moreover, it will likely add further fuel to the comparison of the PPP to the last years of the Musharraf regime.

Did the Sharifs cross the line with their fiery statements? Probably. Would that qualify as sedition or mutiny? The government will certainly argue so for its own preservation, and the law is ambiguous enough to leave that open to interpretation. At the end of the day, though, the real tragedy is that this entire situation has made a travesty of Pakistan’s attempt at democracy.

As William Shakespeare wrote in The Comedy of Errors: For slander lives upon succession/For ever hous’d where it gets possession.

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Peace in Swat?

[Image credit: AP]

Yesterday, Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan, the commander of military operations in five of Pakistan’s seven tribal agencies, reportedly declared “victory” in the fight against the Taliban, noting that his Frontier Corps [FC] had driven militants out of Bajaur. The UK Telegraph reported, “He denied reports –and claims by a militant leader, Faqir Mohammmed – that the military had struck a peace deal. He said that the Taliban had been defeated and that the Taliban’s announcement of a ceasefire was ‘propaganda.'” Given that many view these peace deals as “surrender,” Khan’s statements seem an attempt to maintain the perception that the military is still winning in the tribal agencies, that the Taliban is being “defeated.”

Meanwhile in Swat, the site of the widely reported peace deal, the Daily Times reported that TNSM head Sufi Muhammad is “dissatisfied” with the progress of the enforcement of Sharia, and issued a warning that “he wanted Islamic courts set up in two weeks.” Sufi told reporters, “The government announced enforcement of Sharia but so far no practical step has been taken and we are not satisfied…I’m not seeing any practical steps for the implementation of the peace agreement, except for ministers visiting Swat and uttering words.” He asserted, “If the government does not appoint Qazis [Islamic judges] by March 15, and the two sides do not release prisoners in their custody, we will set up protest camps.”

News agencies are reporting that Swat Valley has become relatively peaceful since the peace deal was initiated. However, outlets are quick to label this calm, “uneasy,” and “tenuous.” Although Fareed Zakaria noted that the Valley has “become quiet once again,” he added, “Fears abound that this [implementation of Nizam-e-Adl] means girls schools will be destroyed, movies will be banned and public beheadings will become a regular occurrence,” [more so than usual he means perhaps]. In a Dawn op-ed today, Mushfiq Murshed, who called the deal “accident prone” and likely to be “short-lived” noted, “The acceptance by Swat residents to live under totalitarian rule and their willingness to sacrifice fundamental human rights should not be considered as the triumph of extremist ideology but a lack of faith in the state to protect them against this menace.” He added,

Apparently, the truce, for whatever it is worth, has been negotiated through the wrong person. Maulana Sufi is a mere figurehead and actual power vests in his firebrand son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah. It is unlikely that Fazlullah will agree to surrender his weapons without which any agreement is meaningless. Furthermore, it has been reported that he is demanding amnesty for the death and devastation that he and his followers have inflicted on Swat.

Yes, there may be quiet in Swat Valley, but at what cost? Do we give Fazullah and his followers a free pass for the crimes previously committed in Swat Valley? The beheadings, the bombings of schools, the daily acts of violence? What kind of message does that send to the local people of Swat? Moreover, with the government increasingly tied up in its own political crisis, these radioactive issues appear ominously brushed under the rug, as Taliban elements consolidate power close to Pakistan’s center. In Seema Mustafa‘s opinion, “The Taliban is creeping into the heartland of Pakistan. And what makes the people of Pakistan, particularly the more aware civil society, despondent is the awareness that there is no one in a position to stop the onward march.” According to Dawn’s Irfan Hussain, “The noise you might hear is the laughter of the Taliban at the sight of Pakistan’s leaders playing politics as usual. The other sounds are the chuckles at GHQ.”

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Friday’s Op-Eds

[Image from the AP, PML-N supporters following a demonstration in Rawalpindi]

As the political turmoil mounts following the Sharif Supreme Court ban [see related post], several Pakistani news agencies threw in their two cents on the matter. Today’s Dawn editorial asserted:

…the PPP has opted for a dangerous path of confrontation. Nawaz Sharif, who himself is guilty of increasing bellicosity in recent weeks, immediately upped the ante further by coming out with extraordinary allegations against President Zardari. Where we go from here is anybody’s guess, though it’s safe to say that little good will come out of it. There are several immediate worries. The PML-N may take to the streets in Punjab and threaten a severe law and order crisis. The lawyer’s long march may now culminate in violent confrontation. The federation may feel the strains of pitting the largest province against the center. And on the back-burner may go the country’s serious crises of militancy, the economy and governance. Democracy is not dead in Pakistan, but common sense may be.

The News’ Ayaz Amir, in an op-ed entitled, “So What Else Did Anyone Expect,” wrote, “with the Sharifs’ disqualification by a bench of the Supreme Court – headed by a chief justice whose close links to Zardari are well known – followed by the ouster of the PML-N government in Punjab and the imposition of governor’s rule, Zardari has let slip the mask from his face by revealing his naked ambition: this time to extend his power and wrest control of Pakistan’s largest province.” Amir added, “This is a dangerous gambit with unpredictable consequences because it remains to be seen whether he is able to master the crisis he has sparked or whether it becomes too big for him …one thing about a crisis we should know: you either master it or it devours you, as Pervez Musharraf discovered to his cost when his action against Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry triggered the lawyers’ movement, leading to a series of events over which he had less and less control.”

I do not doubt that the Supreme Court decisions were inherently political in nature. But I wonder what state the country will be in after the violence, protests, and political infighting end. What will  be left after the dust settles? Dawn’s Cyril Almeida asserted, “Domestic upheaval even at the best of times is deeply damaging to Pakistan. But the unique combination of all major players simultaneously discredited while an exogenous threat to the state gathers, that is a scenario that can have catastrophic consequences for the state as we know it.”

The Nation’s editorial noted, The dreams for a tolerant political culture and a viable democracy have been shattered. With uncertainty gripping the country, questions are being raised if the government would be able to complete its tenure.” In the Nation’s opinion, Zardari “needs to seriously weigh the consequences. He alone is in a position to call the ugly standoff to a halt. For this there is need on his part to employ whatever legal, constitutional and administrative means are available to him to undo the disqualification of the Sharifs and maintain the PPP-PML(N) alliance in Punjab.” In the recent issue of the Friday Times, Dr. Hasan Askari-Rizvi, echoed, “If the PPP-PML(N) confrontation spills over in the streets in the Punjab and Islamabad, both will lose and the future of democracy will become more uncertain. If democracy falters under these circumstances the major blame will be on these political parties.” Oh, the irony – “democracy” damaged by its own actors?

In the wake of these political tensions, issues related to the Swat and the tribal areas seem to have been placed on the back burner. Ayesha Siddiqa, however, succintly related the two issues in her Dawn op-ed, “The Price of Justice,” noting,

Everyone wants justice in Pakistan including the deposed chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, the lawyers, Mukhtaran Mai and ordinary people. However, the only group that eventually got the government to agree to implement a system of justice they wanted – and popularly called the Nizam-i-Adlis the Swati Taliban. So, the moral of our story is that justice will be granted to the most brutal bidder.

That may be a good albeit depressing thought to leave on. Happy weekend everyone. Here’s to hoping – for the people’s sake – that things don’t unravel further.

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