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July 31, 2008 No.
1933

Pakistan Takes Steps Towards Shari'a State In Seven Districts

On May 11, 2008, the secular government in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) finalized a deal with the Taliban groups for the implementation of shari'a in the province's seven districts. The Pashtun nationalist government in the NWFP, which came to power last month, had vowed to talk to the Taliban in order to establish peace in the region. The talks were held between the government, Pakistani Taliban and the outlawed Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e -Muhammadi (Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Shari'a).

The Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi, led by Maulana Sufi Muhammad, the Islamist leader recently released from prison under a deal with the government, is the dominant Taliban group in the NWFP. It is also a constituent of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which is led by Baitullah Mehsud.

Recently, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan walked out of a similar dialogue process with the Pakistani government that was aimed at establishing peace in the Federally Administered Tribal Districts (FATAs), bordered by the NWFP and Afghanistan.

Under the deal between the NWFP government and the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi, which is controlled by Sufi Muhammad's son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah, a shari'a system of administration and justice will be implemented in seven districts. This will effectively create the world's first mini-shari'a state within Pakistan, with the provincial government practically ceding control to the Taliban in roughly 45% of the province.

The following are the details of the shari'a deal:[1]

Taleban Ulema to Guide Police Stations, Shari'a Courts

According to a report in the Peshawar-based Urdu-language newspaper Roznama Khabrain, shari'a law will be implemented in seven NWFP districts: Malakand, Swat, Shangla, Kohistan, Lower Dir, Upper Dir and Chitral.

Under the deal, the government will create a department of "Amr Bil Maroof," a reference to the Islamic principle exhorting others to be good. According to the report, police stations in these districts will assist the Amr Bil Maroof department, thereby ensuring the enforcement of shari'a in everyday life. Ulema will be recruited for honorary department positions, to advise government officials.

According to the Roznama Khabrain report, ''the [ulema of the] department of Amr Bil Maroof will train [sic] people in Islam, Islamic teachings, Islamic norms and laws.'' There will be total ban on singing and dancing, and the ulema, who will not be paid a salary, will be based in the local police stations of the seven districts and offer their services as part of their work for Islam.

Courts Will Deliver Islam-Compliant Punishments

The paper stated that shari'a courts will be created in the seven districts, and that these courts will have the power to deliver Islam-compliant verdicts such as amputating the hands of individuals convicted of theft, administering 80 lashes or stoning for convicted rapists, or enforcing qisas – a principle that permits ''like punishment'' for a crime.

According to the paper, judges will be required to have knowledge of shari'a. Those who do not will be transferred to other districts of the province, and their positions will be filled by judges who do, and who have qualified at an Islamic university. Also under the deal, ulema will be appointed as assistants to the judges of the shari'a courts.

Government to Terminate Legal Proceedings Against Hundreds Of Militants

The four-day talks were held at Fishing Hut Chakdara in the Lower Dir district of the province. The government delegation was led by NWFP Minister Bashir Belour, and a five-member Taliban delegation was led by Maulana Muslim of the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi.

Under the deal, the government has agreed to terminate legal proceedings against 524 militants from the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi, as demanded by the Taliban. Another 56 will be granted bail once they reach the Pakistani courts.

According to Roznama Khabrain, the government has also agreed to declare a timetable for the withdrawal of Pakistan's security forces from the seven districts.

If Similar FATA Deal Is Reached, The Shari'a Administration's Contiguous Geographical Area Will Expand By 120%

While the seven districts in which shari'a is to be implemented represent roughly 45% of the NWFP, if the Pakistani government also succeeds in its efforts to reach a similar deal with Baitullah Mehsud in the FATAs, the shari'a administration's contiguous geographical area will expand by approximately 120 percent.

There are reasons to believe that the shari'a state's frontiers will expand in the days ahead. According to a report in the Urdu-language newspaper Roznama Jasarat, the NWFP government is preparing to hold talks with the local Taliban in the Mardan district of the province.[2]

The Mardan district adjoins the Malakand district; it is some 60 km away from the provincial capital of Peshawar. According to the report, the NWFP government has already finalized details of the government delegation that will start the talks with the Taliban for a peace agreement in the Mardan district.

[1] Roznama Khabrain (Pakistan), May 12, 2008.

[2] Roznama Jasarat (Pakistan), May 12, 2008.