01/25/2008, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Islamic courts to replace Supreme Court in Pakistan’s tribal areas

by Qaiser Felix
NWFP’s caretaker government wants to change the local justice system by replacing the Supreme Court with new Qazi Courts staffed with judges trained in Islamic law and assisted by ‘helpers’ selected from local clergymen.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The caretaker government of the North-West Frontier Province in Pakistan wants to modify the Shariah Nizam-e-Adl or Islamic justice system adopted in 1994 in order to replace the existing secular Supreme Court in Peshawar with new Qazi courts as the last court of appeal. For NWFP government officials this would stop extremism and the militarisation of the area, but others see in it instead as an attempt to separate tribal areas from the rest of the country and create some kind of Sharia-ruled enclave.

NWFP Law Minister Mian Muhammad Ajmal said the decision was taken to respect the autonomy of the area in question. “After the signature of the governor on the amended draft, the judges of the Sharia Court would be bound to dispose of civil cases within two months and criminal cases in one month.

For some analysts however the decision will simply remove the tribal areas of Swat, Dir and Chitral from the jurisdiction of the NWFP and give it a special status to enforce religious laws.

Under the new scheme ordinary judges will require training in Islamic law to act as Qazis whilst deferring to clerics whom the administration will appoint as “helpers” through a complex system of selection.

For Syed Hiqbal Haider, secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, this is matter of great concern. The proposed changes are deeply flawed and will hand the justice system over to “religious zealots” who will thus wield a great deal of power.

“This is not a fight for Islam but for territorial control and political power perpetrated by warlords in the name of Islam, with the army aiming to assert its own control over them,” said Hina Villani, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General on Human Rights.

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