Plagued by concerns over the teetering coalition at the Centre, and ravaged by the enormous losses in infrastructure being imposed daily by militants, the NWFP government has adopted a policy of least resistance against the militantsAccording to the peace deal reached between the NWFP government and the Tehrik-e Taliban, the Government has agreed to enforce sharia in the region, withdraw cases registered against the Taliban and release a number of Taliban prisoners. Also included is a provision to review the cases filed against Maulana Fazlullah and other prominent leaders. The rebel Maulana will now be allowed to operate his controversial radio station with government approval on a known FM frequency. The Taliban, in turn, have promised to put a stop to the suicide attacks that have killed hundreds of people in the region.
The NWFP government’s strategy of negotiating a “deal” with subversive elements by institutionalising their most radical demands is undoubtedly aimed at co-opting them. The hope behind the calculation is that the Taliban demands for Sharia lose their revolutionary potency when the government itself establishes Qazi courts in the region.
Without the demand for “imposing Sharia” as a means of garnering local support, it is hoped fewer Taliban can be recruited to the Tehrik’s cause. Similarly it is hoped that the fiery appeal of “Maulana Radio” may fade when it begins operating as a government-sanctioned FM radio station rather than on its current stolen frequency. The aim, quite simply, seems to be to give the Tehrik-e Taliban a stake in local governance and justice provision so that they desist from its violent campaign of suicide bombings, store raids, hostage taking and other anti-state activities.
The sharia strategy employed by the NWFP government is not a novel invention, either in Pakistani politics in general, or even in the narrow realms of negotiations with militant elements.
Historically, a vast variety of political actors from generals to pandering politicians have used the imposition of Sharia as a means of legitimising their rule and disguising their precarious claims to power. The legacy of these sharia experiments remains evident in the hotchpotch of jurisdictional confusion that is a part of Pakistan’s legal system.
The current iteration of the sharia strategy as a means to pacify militants is no different in its aims to use religious law to justify political ends with little attention to the expertise or scholarship required to sustain it. As the editorial pages of various Pakistani newspapers have pointed out, the strategy of imposing sharia as a means of brokering peace has repeatedly backfired in previous years when similar peace deals were reached with militant groups and then unceremoniously abandoned by the militants a few months or even weeks later.
Even as this very peace deal was being negotiated and Tehrik representatives sat with government officials to hammer out the details, two girls schools and a gas pipeline were blown up in Kabal, and two picnic points and a house were set on fire in Mingora. While Muslim Khan, Maulana Fazlullah’s spokesperson, conveniently “disowned” the elements responsible for the attack, the ease with which he did so and the minimal impact the continuing violence seems to have had on the NWFP government’s conciliatory stance is an apt prediction of how easy it will be for the Tehrik to continue with its reign of violence while also capitalising on Government support.
In other words, the peace deal represents a win-win situation for the Tehrik: when wanting to intimidate and aggress they can continue their attacks easily blaming them on other more hard line groups such as Jaish-e Muhammad, while also enjoying the concessions granted by an increasingly desperate provincial government.
On the substantive level, the Swat agreement presents even more pressing problems. As mentioned before, providing the imprimatur of legal legitimacy to the edicts issued by Qazi courts presided over by local mullahs further sullies the name of Islamic law that has already been dragged through the mud in Pakistan by a variety of politicians. With its now habitual disregard for the scholarly requirements necessary for Qazis, the government is essentially allowing all variety of tribal practices and customs to be defined as “Islamic” and be imposed in bereft populations plagued by bloodthirsty violence. By empowering the Taliban to justify their reign of terror as “Islamic” not only in their book but also in the eyes of the government, the NWFP may have created an even bigger monster than the one already ravaging the Swat valley.
Ultimately, the sharia strategy employed by the NWFP government, despite being a coalition of “left” parties, is an illustration of the opportunistic short-sightedness of Pakistani politics today. Despite the fact that PPP party leaders made public statements against the Shari Nizam-e Adl prior to their election, and spoke openly about the long-term problems produced by parallel systems of justice, they seemed to have suffered little shame at their ideological about-face.
Indeed, plagued by concerns over the teetering coalition at the Centre, and ravaged by the enormous losses in infrastructure being imposed daily by militants, the NWFP government has adopted a policy of least resistance against the militants. Abandoned are questions of what peace deals with violent unrepentant insurgents do to legitimise their tactics as viable means of achieving political goals. Abandoned also are commitments to institutionalising a moderate version of Islam that is egalitarian and premised on its core principle of faith without duress. Most tragically absent are debates over the persistent vexing question of the role Islam must play in the statecraft of Pakistan.
The absence of a political vision that responds to these questions is the crucial missing element that has increasingly set Pakistan on a wandering and misguided course. The Tehrik-e Taliban has shown repeatedly through beheadings, mass killings, suicide bombings and public stonings an absolute disinterest in peace. And in exchange for all this they have been rewarded with more concessions.
Rafia Zakaria is an attorney living in the United States where she teaches courses on Constitutional Law and Political Philosophy. She can be contacted at email@example.com