Seven sharia courts opened this week in Pakistan’s northwest Swat Valley as part of a peace agreement signed between tribal leaders and the government last month. Authorities said two qazis, or judges trained in Islamic law, reviewed some 30 minor cases in Mingora, the largest city in Swat.
The provincial government of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) agreed to introduce sharia law as part of a ceasefire deal with the Pakistani Taliban in Swat in February. US officials have expressed concern that the region could become a safe-haven for militants. Mullah Sufi Muhammad, the local religious leader who negotiated the deal, threatened to revive regional protests if Islamic courts were not established quickly.
Sufi Muhammad, who leads Tehrik-e-Nifaz Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM), or movement for the introduction of sharia, has called on all non-sharia judges in Swat valley to step down. At least 16 government-appointed (secular) judges were reported to have not turned up for work in Swat following the edict.
Moulana Rizwanullah, Sufi Muhammad’s son and deputy, said the TNSM would not allow any other law systems to contradict sharia. He reiterated Sufi Muhammad’s statements that there are no non-sharia judges in Islam, and no concept of a lawyer. Sufi Muhammad’s group also said it would open a Dar ul-Qaza, or Islamic supreme court, where people could appeal against the decisions of qazis. The decision of the Dar ul-Qaza would be final, the TSNM said, and cold not be challenged in any other Pakistani court. It remains to be seen if the NWFP government will accept these terms.
Fighting broke out in Swat in late 2007 after Sufi Muhammad was arrested by the security forces. Maulana Fazlullah, Sufi Muhammad’s son-in-law and leader of the Taliban in Swat, took up arms to demand the religious leader’s release, as well as the introduction of sharia in the area. Fazlullah’s fighters, who control much of the valley, declared a ceasefire following the February peace deal and the Pakistan army suspended its operations in the region. At least 1,200 people were killed in the Swat Valley violence and thousands more displaced. (AlJazeera, March 17)
The peace-for-sharia deal shows signs of merely escalating Pakistan’s internal contradiction. Other peace deals with the borderland tribes haven’t been working out too well either. Similar things are afoot in Somalia.