Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Pakistan President Signs Off on Islamic Law Deal | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

ISLAMABAD, (AP) – Pakistan’s pro-U.S. president signed a regulation late Monday to put a northwestern district under Islamic law as part of a peace deal with the Taliban, going along after coming under intense pressure from members of his own party and other lawmakers.

Asif Ali Zardari’s signature was a boon for Islamic militants who have brutalized the Swat Valley for nearly two years in demanding a new justice system. It was sure to further anger human rights activists and feed fears among the U.S. and other Western allies that the valley will turn into a sanctuary for militants close to Afghanistan.

Whatever criticism may come, Zardari can claim some political cover — the National Assembly voted unanimously Monday to adopt a resolution urging his signature, although at least one party boycotted. Earlier, a Taliban spokesman had warned lawmakers against opposing the deal.

Zardari’s spokeswoman, Farahnaz Ispahani, confirmed the president signed the regulation Monday night.

His signing implemented a deal agreed to in February by provincial officials to impose Islamic law in the Swat Valley and surrounding areas in exchange for a cease-fire between security forces and the local Taliban.

Zardari had put off signing the agreement, saying he wouldn’t until peace was restored in Swat but never defining what that meant. The delay led a hard-line Muslim cleric mediating the agreement to leave Swat in anger last week and upset lawmakers from the region.

As pressure mounted, the federal government said over the weekend that Zardari wanted parliament first to debate the accord to implement an Islamic legal system, as long demanded by some residents disenchanted with inefficient regular courts.

Lawmakers made clear they believed the deal should go ahead, saying it would bring calm to the area after months of bloodshed that killed hundreds of people and displaced up to one-third of the valley’s 1.5 million residents.

“The whole nation is united in its support of the Swat regulation and wants the president to approve it,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said at the start of parliamentary debate Monday.

Even without the president’s approval, judges trained in Islamic law had begun hearing cases in Swat, and witnesses say Taliban fighters are in effective control of much of the region. The provincial government also agreed to other measures under the peace deal, such as cracking down on prostitution and sales of movies deemed “obscene.”

Supporters say the changes in the legal system will speed up justice, not lead to harsh punishments or restrict the rights of women. Critics say the agreement is a surrender to extremists whose tactics include beheading opponents and burning girls’ schools.

The events Monday “strengthened the militants,” said Mahmood Shah, an analyst and former top security official in northwest Pakistan.

Shah noted Taliban fighters in Swat recently staged a violent foray into the neighboring Buner district, possibly to put the heat on lawmakers and Zardari to support the deal. “They have really forced the government to do that,” he said.

Those brokering the deal have given few specifics about conditions placed on the Taliban in Swat, including whether they have to give up their weapons. But the Swat Taliban’s spokesman, Muslim Khan, suggested after the parliament vote that disarming was at least an option.

“We had picked up weapons for the sake of a justice system, and we will put them down for the sake of a justice system,” he said.

Lawmakers from the Muttahida Quami Movement, a party based in the southern city of Karachi that has a strong anti-Taliban stance, walked out of the parliament session before the vote on the resolution. “We can’t accept Islamic law at gunpoint,” said Farooq Sattar, a top party leader.

Muslim Khan would not say if the Taliban would target legislators who opposed the deal, saying only that a militant council would discuss the matter. The Taliban warned before the vote that lawmakers against the deal were guilty of apostasy, or abandoning Islam, which carries the death penalty in some parts of the Muslim world.

Elsewhere, Pakistani authorities announced the arrest of another suspect in the deadly terrorist assault on the Indian city of Mumbai, which killed 164 people as well as nine of the 10 gunmen. Pakistan has acknowledged that the November attack was partly planned on its soil.

The Interior Ministry chief, Rehman Malik, said Shahid Jamil Riaz was arrested in Karachi on charges of maintaining financial accounts and helping plan the attack. Authorities now have five suspects in custody, he said.

Also Monday, visiting U.S. Sen. John Kerry met with Pakistan’s president, prime minister and other top officials, including Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, head of Pakistan’s most powerful spy service, Inter-Services Intelligence.

Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is spearheading a bill to increase nonmilitary aid to Pakistan, with the goal of helping it improve economic, educational and other sectors as a way to lessen the allure of Islamic extremism.

In a statement after the meeting, Gilani urged the U.S. not to attach conditions to aid funds, saying “strings attached would fail to generate the desired goodwill and results in Pakistan.”

During a news conference, Kerry took a friendly stance when asked about U.S. allegations that elements within Pakistan’s spy agencies are assisting militant groups, saying he had a good meeting with Pasha.

“I think that he and your government are making enormous efforts to guarantee the absolute cooperation and accountability of the intelligence efforts in this country,” Kerry said.