Swat Gets Shariah Judicial System
PESHAWAR — In a significant move, the militancy-bowed Pakistani government announced on Monday, February 16, the enforcement of Shari`ah judicial system in the troubled valley of Swat and various other districts of the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) to stem the growing influence of militants.
"From today, all the laws repugnant to Shari`ah are annulled in Malakund division," Ameer Haider Khan Hoti, NWF Chief Minister, said after signing an agreement on Shari`ah enforcement with Sufi Mohammad, leader of the main faction of the Tehrik Nifaz-e-Shari’ah Mohammadi (TNSM).
"And now, all the cases will be dealt under Shari`ah laws."
Shari`ah laws will be enforced immediately under the Shari`ah Regulations Act signed by President Asif Zardari, who earlier was reluctant to approve it over US opposition.
"Today is a historic day in the history of Pakistan and NWFP, when an old demand of the people has been met," said Hoti, the youngest-ever chief minister of NWFP.
Under the newly introduced judicial system, there will be Qazi courts in Swat, Dir, Chitral, Kohistan, and other NWFP districts.
The courts will decide the civil cases within six months and the criminal within four months.
Appeals against court rulings can be filed with an appellant court, which will be called "Dar-ul-Qada`h" which will be set up in Mingora, the capital of the Swat valley.
Only those well-versed Shari`ah can be appointed as judges of Qazi and Qad'ah courts.
The NWFP chief minister admitted that the lack of speedy justice had created a vacuum in the tourist valley, commonly know as mini-Switzerland, which was filled by militants.
"There was vacuum in the valley vis-à-vis dispensation of speedy justice. The people of Swat were used to settle down their disputes through Shari`ah laws till 1970," he recalled.
"The induction of the valley in Pakistan and subsequently the introduction of Pakistan penal code created a lot of problem for the locals."
Swat had been an independent state governed by Shari`ah laws until 1970 before annexed to Pakistan by former military ruler General Yahya Khan.
The enforcement of Shari`ah judicial system marks the latest effort by the government to stem the growing influence of militants in the once tourist attraction valley of Swat.
"Now, I appeal to all those who raised arms for this purpose to lay down their arms as their demand has been met," said Hoti, the nephew of the ruling Awami National Party (ANP) leader Asfandyar Wali, who recently escaped a suicide attack.
A TNSM faction led by Maulana Fazlullah, the son-in-law of Sufi Mohammad, has been battling government troops for the implementation of Shari`ah.
Now Sufi Mohammad, a renowned and popular scholar and TSNM founder, will be responsible to persuade militants led by Fazlullah to shun militancy.
"I will not go back to my home until peace is restored in Swat," Mohammad told Islamonline.net by telephone.
"Inshaullah, you will see within days the positive impact of the enforcement of Shari`ah system, which was the major demand of the area people."
The TNSM faction led by Fazlullah, commonly known as Maulana Radio because of his FM radio station, has already announced a 10-day ceasefire following the agreement between his father-in-law and the government.
A 42-member Jirga led by Sufi Mohammad will go to Swat within the next 24 hours to persuade militants to lay down their arms.
Military troops, which have been embroiled in fierce fighting with the militants, will remain in the area but will not be pro-active.
"They will not attack the militants and will only reply if they are attacked," explained Hoti.
"As soon as the situation is under control, the army will not stay there for a single day."
The government’s move has been widely welcomed, even by the secular parties and thinkers.
"This is a great move by the government," said Nazir Naji, a senior columnist who often writes against Taliban.
"There had been no good news for Pakistanis. This is the first good news for us after several months."
Latif Afridi, a senior lawyer and President of NWFP Bar Council, also welcomed the implementation of the Shari`ah regulations act.
"This is great that the civilian and criminal cases will be decided within months," he told IOL.
"This will certainly provide speedy and affordable justice to the people."
Afridi sees no constitutional hurdle or a parallel judicial system in the region.
"This (Shari`ah system) had been there for centuries. There were only 40 years when they were deprived of that," he notes.
"This was a general and genuine demand of the local people."
Behroz Khan, a Peshawar-based senior journalist, thinks that a tough task still awaits the government.
"The implementation of the Shari`ah act and then restoration of peace will be the tough tasks to be met by the federal and provincial governments," he said.
"There are some elements that have a global agenda. Let’ see what excuse will they have now to continue militancy."
Khan cites a difference between militancy in the northern tribal areas and Swat.
"Militancy in tribal areas is not in the name of Shari`ah. Rather it was a reaction to US invasion of Afghanistan," he said.
"But militancy in Swat was totally for enforcement of Shari`ah system. That is why we all hope that the situation will be improved now."
Naji, the senior columnist, thinks that the peace deal this time will be durable.
"There is no Musharraf this time who on the one hand strikes deal and on the other hand violate them on the US pressure," said the columnist referring to former president Pervez Musharraf.
"I'm sure the current government has learnt a lesson that the issue could not be resolved by force."