Monday 20 April 2009
After reaching deal in north, Islamists aim to install religious law nationwide.
Islamabad, Pakistan - A potentially troubling era dawned Sunday in Pakistan's Swat Valley, where a top Islamist militant leader, emboldened by a peace agreement with the federal government, laid out an ambitious plan to bring a "complete Islamic system" to the surrounding northwest region and the entire country.
Speaking to thousands of followers in an address aired live from Swat on national news channels, cleric Sufi Mohammed bluntly defied the constitution and federal judiciary, saying he would not allow any appeals to state courts under the system of sharia, or Islamic law, that will prevail there as a result of the peace accord signed by the president Tuesday.
says that supporting an infidel system is a great sin," Mohammed said,
dramatic speech echoed a rousing sermon in
Together, these rallying cries seemed to create an arc of radical religious energy between the turbulent, Taliban-plagued northwest region and the increasingly vulnerable federal capital, less than 100 miles to the east. They also appeared to pose a direct, unprecedented religious challenge to modern state authority in the Muslim nation of 176 million.
government made a big mistake to give these guys legal cover for their agenda.
Now they are going to be battle-ready to struggle for the soul of
Richard C. Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to the region, said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CNN that the decision by insurgents to keep fighting in spite of the peace deal should be a "wake-up call to everybody in Pakistan that you can't deal with these people by giving away territory as they creep closer and closer to the populated centers of the Punjab and Islamabad."
Also Sunday, a
The government agreed to Mohammed's demands in an effort to halt violent intimidation by Taliban forces that the army was unable to quell despite months of operations in the former tourist haven. In recent interviews, Swati leaders and refugees described armed men in black turbans whipping suspected thieves on the spot, cutting off the ears and noses of village elders who opposed them, and selling videos of police beheadings.
"We really had no other choice. We had no power to crush the militants, and people were desperate for peace," said Jafar Shah, a Swati legislator. His Awami National Party, though historically secular, sponsored the sharia deal. "Now people are calling us Taliban without beards," he said ruefully, "but it was the only option available."
Provincial and federal officials also hoped their show of good faith would halt further insurgent inroads and buy time for foreign aid programs to shore up the impoverished northwest against the Islamists' message of swift justice and social equality.
Instead, the evidence suggests that the extremist forces have drawn the opposite lesson from their victory in Swat and are gearing up to carry their armed crusade for a punitive, misogynistic form of Islam into new areas. There have been numerous reports of Taliban fighters entering districts south and west of Swat, where they have brandished weapons, bombed and occupied buildings, arrested aid workers, and killed female activists.
achieve our goals in one place, we need to struggle for it in other areas,"
Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan told Pakistani news services by telephone last
week. "Sharia does not permit us to lay down our arms if the government
continues anti-Muslim policies." The goal, he said, is to "enforce
the rule of Allah on the
northwestern town of
inescapable reality is that another domino has toppled and the Taliban are a
step closer to
Surprisingly, there has been little official or public protest against the creeping tide of Islamist extremism. Analysts said this is partly because of fear of retaliation and partly because of strong religious sentiments that make Pakistanis reluctant to criticize fellow Muslims.
Even in especially
shocking cases, such as the public flogging of a Swati girl suspected of having
an affair, the response from national leaders was a muddle of denial and
obfuscation. Some said the incident, which surfaced last month on a videotape,
had been staged to sabotage the peace deal. Others said it was a minor issue
A handful of influential Pakistanis have begun to raise the alarm, warning in newspaper columns or speeches that government and society need to confront the enemy within and acknowledge the difference between conventional sharia and the crude, brutally enforced Taliban version of an extremist Islamist state.
"In Swat they
got their system imposed at gunpoint, and now they are ready to Taliban-ize the
whole country," Altaf Hussain, the exiled head of the Muttahida Qaumi
Majlis political party, said at a teleconference of Muslim clerics in
Supporters of the Swat agreement pointed out that residents have been demanding sharia for years to replace the slow, corrupt justice system. But Swati leaders said that the local version of Islamic law was traditionally moderate and that in elections last year Swatis voted overwhelmingly for two secular parties.
natives of Swat like to recall earlier days when serenity and tolerance
prevailed in the region of apple orchards, forested hills and glacial streams.
something in the soil that made the people soft," said Asad Khan, a Swat
native in his 40s who lives in the city of
This week, after the peace accord was endorsed, officials and pro-government news media described the atmosphere in Swat as relieved and heading back to normalcy. But several people who visited the Swati capital of Mingora this week said they saw worried faces, no women in the markets, and clusters of black-turbaned men watching everyone closely.
"Things are confused and unclear. People have suffered a lot, and they are desperate for peace, but they don't know if it will last," said Afzal Khan Lala, a provincial legislator, reached by phone in Mingora. "If the Taliban are sincere, then peace should prevail. But if they have ulterior aims and seek supremacy over the state, I doubt peace will come to Swat."
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