Pakistan flogging video to scuttle peace-for-sharia deal?

Authorities in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province are calling the release of a video of a 17-year-old girl being brutally flogged in public a deliberate attempt to sabotage the peace deal signed with the Taliban in the Swat Valley. The shocking two-minute video shows bearded Islamic militants—one of whom is apparently her brother—holding the girl down as she screams in pain. It was aired April 3 on a Pakistani TV talk show and has outraged public opinion in the country.

“We were able to acquire peace after a very long time and such media manipulations showing a past event as recent would spoil these efforts and could drag the region once again in turmoil,” NWFP provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar told reporters. He claims he personally visited the Swat valley to investigate the case and that the flogging occurred on Jan. 3, nearly five weeks before the Swat peace deal was signed on Feb. 16. Local sharia courts were established a few days later. Iftikhar is the leader of the secular Awami National Party, which was targeted by Islamic militants during a bloody two-year conflict with security forces in the Swat Valley .

The Taliban have downplayed the video. The movement’s spokesman Haji Muslim Khan told Italy’s AKI news service: “This was an old incident which happened before the Islamic Sharia courts were constituted in the Swat Valley and even before the ceasefire was announced. It was not officially done by the Taliban but some Taliban did that in their private capacity.”

Khan said the girl’s flogging took place while the Taliban was distracted with fighting. “We were not in a position to control each and every event and therefore some lapses happened,” he said. But he added: “Nevertheless, one thing was confirmed and that is that the girl was wayward and therefore she should be punished.”

The flogging occurred after a neighbor reportedly claimed the girl had a relationship with a married man. “Some rules were ignored during the implementation of flogging like, it should be done behind closed doors and not in public,” Khan said. Pakistan’s chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has ordered Pakistan’s interior secretary and the NWFP government to prepare a report on the incident. (AKI, April 3)

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