Monday, February 16, 2009

Pakistan imposes Islamic law in Taliban stronghold.

The government of Pakistan have made an astonishing concession to extremists by deciding to allow sharia law in the vast region of the north-west called Malakand, despite admitting that the Taliban are "trying to take over the state".

Critics warned that the new sharia regulations represented a capitulation to the extremists' demands, and that it would be difficult to stop hardliners elsewhere in the country from demanding that their areas also come under Islamic law.

"This is definitely a surrender," said Khadim Hussain of the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy, a thinktank in Islamabad. "If you keep treating a community as something different from the rest of the country, it will isolate them."

Javed Iqbal, a retired judge, speaking on Pakistani television, said: "It means that there is not one law in the country. It will disintegrate this way. If you concede to this, you will go on conceding."

One never makes such concessions from a position of strength, so you have to wonder just how much control the government of Pakistan actually has if it is making such extraordinary concessions.

In an interview broadcast today by the US television channel CBS, Zardari admitted that the future of Pakistan was in grave danger from the Taliban, who are present in "huge parts" of the country. Islamabad is under severe pressure from the US, Britain and other western allies to rein in the extremists, who fight both in Pakistan and Afghanistan and play host to al-Qaida.

Zardari said: "We are aware of the fact [the Taliban are] trying to take over the state of Pakistan. We're fighting for the survival of Pakistan. "

Apparently, cases in Pakistan courts can take years to settle and the Taliban have been exploiting public anger over this by proposing sharia law as a replacement. The government hopes that by offering a light form of sharia law it might placate the public and rob the Taliban of a public grievance which they have been playing upon.

The new law is a relatively mild form of sharia, with the aim of undermining support for the extremists and their populist demand for speedy Islamic justice. Religious experts, known as a qazi, will sit in the court, alongside a regular judge, to ensure that the rulings are in compliance with Islam.

However, many believe that the Taliban will not ultimately accept this form of Islamic law.

This looks to me like the start of a very slippery slope and it's a grave worry when a nuclear power starts making concessions of this kind. The situation in Pakistan is terrifying, so I am pleased that the Obama administration are offering a new "sensitive" approach, as it certainly sounds like it's an area which we should approach wearing kid gloves.

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Ingrid said...

having been exposed to people who cannot fathom other ways of thinking when living in Saudi, I find this very disturbing. And right you are KEL! Kid gloves not as to seem weak (as the hardliners would have you believe), but because you'd be playing with fire if you did anything but. The Islamic rightwingers will never concede to anything for starters, but somehow acknowledging their existence might make any communication now or into the future a possibility. 'cause you don't want to cut off that line..


Kel said...

Ingrid, we need kid gloves because there are many in Pakistan aligned with the Taliban, some of them in the upper reaches of both the army and the ISI, and we don't know if the government pushes too hard whether or not it will survive.

Bush always refused to acknowledge that reality and his demands on Musharraf exacerbated what was an already dangerous situation.

Obama appears to be at least willing to accept that this isn't as easy as we would all like it to be.