04/20/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Only Sharia in Swat Valley, then all of Pakistan, says Taliban leader

by Qaiser Felix
Sufi Muhammad says there is “no room for democracy” in Islam, a Western “system of infidels.” Taliban kill a couple accused of adultery. Activists and political leaders accuse the government of handing over the valley to extremists. Afghanistan is concerned of “dire consequences” for the whole region.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Sufi Muhammad, head of the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), said in a speech in Mingora, the Swat Valley’s main city, that Sharia is the only law for the valley and will be implemented in the rest of Pakistan.

“There is no room for democracy in Islam,” the Islamist leader also said. Western democracy was a “system of infidels” and has divided the country thanks to the support of the Supreme Court and the high courts.

Hence all judges in the Malakand division should be withdrawn “within four days”; if these demands are not met, there will be “consequences”.

The decision to implement Sharia in the Swat Valley was agreed by the government of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the TNSM in order to bring to an end years of violent conflict in the area. Sharia came into effect last 16 February, a decision that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari signed into law on 13 April after it received unanimous support in the National Assembly.

What the Talibanisation of the Swat Valley means has become rapidly apparent. Yesterday a couple accused of having a relation outside of marriage was publicly executed by a group of Islamists in Hangu District near the border with Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Dawn News broadcast the images.

This came a few days after a 17-year-old woman, Chand Bibi, was publicly flogged after she was seen in public with a man who was not her husband. The execution of the sentence was taped on videophone.

At the same times though, Taliban brutality has provoked a wave of indignation that has swept Pakistan. Community leaders and human rights advocates have unanimously slammed Taliban actions.

By contrast, the central government and local officials in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) insist that the introduction of Sharia in the Swat Valley is the will of the people, and the best solution to end years of warfare.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said that a majority of Pakistanis have endorsed the Swat peace agreement which will promote stability in the area.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) disagrees. In a statement signed by its chairperson, Asma Jahangir, the HRCP said that 13 April was a day of “ignominious capitulation,” a day that will be remembered for the state’s humiliating submission to blind force.

What is more, the agreement makes no reference to abuses inflicted upon women, children and minorities as a result of the implementation of Sharia.

Other voices have joined the chorus against the agreement.

Former Pakistani Information Minister Sherry Rehman wonders who will protect women’s rights since Taliban “justice” is a serious threat to the population and only the state can guarantee the rule of law in the country.

Such fears seem even more justified after TNSM Chief Sufi Muhammad said that “women will have full protection and rights under Sharia” and “live a better life, but behind the veil.”

Once a famous tourist resort area, the Swat Valley is now abandoned; its 130 hotels empty. Local women are not allowed to leave home whilst men are forced to grow a bear. Schools have been attacked and girls have been denied the right to take part in sports.

The only party that opposed the agreement, unsuccessfully, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), is also weary about pledges of peace.

“Those who support this deal have actually betrayed their voters,” party Chairman Farooq Sattar said.

Alarm bells have also gone off in neighbouring Afghanistan where many see developments in Pakistan as having possible “dire consequences” for the region as a whole.

“We do not interfere in Pakistan's internal affairs,” Afghan President Hamid Karzai's spokesman, Homayun Hamidzada, said, but there are concerns that “dealing with terrorists’ by “handing over parts of one country” to them “could have dire consequences in the long term.”

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