Shaheen Buneri | Correspondent | Friday, June 6, 2008
Residents of the NWFP's Swat valley say militants are effectively administering the area.
In a peace deal recently negotiated with hard-line Taliban cleric Maulana Fazlullah, the NWFP government promised to enforce Islamic law (shari'a) in the Swat valley.
It is now working on a draft of a shari'a ordinance to be implemented in the region, but impatient with the slow-moving bureaucratic process, Fazlullah -- who presides over a 50-member shura, or council -- is ordering his followers to take action.
In a speech broadcast on his unlicensed radio station, the cleric directed his supporters to resolve local problems according to the tenets of Islam and traditions of the Pashtun-dominated area.
"[The] Pakistan judiciary cannot resolve people issues and feuds," he said. "In some cases it makes people wait for 60 years to decide on a case. The people are consulting us to interfere and help them resolving their problems.
"Following our traditions of jirga [tribal councils] now we solve people problems within days. This is the difference between the system revealed by Allah and man-made system."
Locals say that as government administrative and judicial departments are not functioning in the area, people are turning to Fazlullah and the Taliban to resolve their disputes.
Some even claim that the Taliban have established their own courts.
Qari Shoib, a local elder, denied that actual Taliban courts were operating, but said Taliban elders come together at a mosque in the Matta subdivision of the valley every Friday to rule on issues brought by villagers.
"This is a sort of Pashtun traditional jirga , where people come with their problems, and Taliban elders resolve them as per Islamic principles," he explained. The Taliban had also announced regulations, including fines for the illegal cutting down of trees in nearby forests.
Pakistan's new civilian government says its negotiations with militants are aimed at ending violence that has plagued districts adjacent to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and has not been curbed by military operations; the U.S. and NATO officials in Afghanistan have voiced concern that peace deals with radicals worsen the security situation in the region.
After signing a 15-point peace agreement with the provincial government last month, a number of militants affiliated with Fazlullah have returned to their homes in different parts of the valley.
Zubair Shah, a resident and elder of Kabal village, said Taliban militants, newly confident after the pace agreement, were virtually controlling the area, dictating to people on a variety of matters.
"How to hold a marriage ceremony, how to resolve your land dispute and [if you want] to send your daughter to school, you will have to consult a local Taliban commander," he said. "You have no choice."
The Swat valley that was once a center of Buddhist civilization and home to hundreds of rare statues, artifacts and monuments. Many have been destroyed by the militants, as have several girls' high schools. (Fazlullah says educating girls is un-Islamic.)
Usman Ulasyar, president of Swat's Cultural and Arts Society, said the militants had destroyed the valley's cultural heritage and were now forcefully transforming people's social values and traditions.
Swat, a prime tourist spot, became a hub of militant activity in July 2007, when Fazlullah used fiery broadcast sermons to provoke people in the area to fight against the U.S.-backed government of President Pervez Musharraf.
The government deployed 25,000 troops, and the conflict between the security forces and Fazlullah's forces caused severe upheaval in the valley, costing the lives of more than 300 people, mostly civilians.
"When the government could not subdue a handful of militants then it started a military operation here," Ulasyar said. "The irony is the government striking a deal with Maulana Fazlullah, who devastated Swat and its people."
Responding to reports about Taliban courts, Fazlullah spokesman Muslim Khan told reporters that "some elements want to sabotage the peace process [and] want to create mistrust between Maulana Fazlullah and the government."
"We have not established any court. We are just resolving people's feuds under the traditions of the area."
Khan was speaking after fresh negotiations between Taliban and senior government officials in Mingora, the district capital of Swat.
Meanwhile, government officials also confirmed that 12 militants arrested by the government in an earlier military operation had been released.
"The government has agreed to release 12 militants as per the agreement with Maulana Fazlullah," said Dr. Shamshir Ali, a member of provincial assembly from Swat.
"We want to continue the peace process," he added. "We cannot afford further bloodshed."
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