The more you look, the less you see in Swat sharia deal

February 26, 2009

Ten days have passed since Pakistan cut a deal with Islamists to enforce sharia in the turbulent Swat region in return for a ceasefire, and we still don’t know many details about what was agreed.  The deal made international headlines. It prompted political and security concerns in NATO and Washington and warnings about possible violations of human rights and religious freedom.

(Photo: Supporters of Maulana Sufi Mohammad gather for prayers in Mingora, 21 Feb 2009/Adil Khan)

In the blogosphere, Terry Mattingly over at GetReligion has asked in two posts (here and here) why reporters there aren’t supplying more details about exactly how sharia will be implemented or what the  doctrinal differences between Muslims in the region are. Like other news organisations, Reuters has been reporting extensively on the political side of this so-called peace deal but not had much on the religion details. As Reuters religion editor and a former chief correspondent in Pakistan and Afghanistan, I’m very interested in this. I blogged about the deal when it was struck and wanted to revisit the issue now to see what more we know about it.

After consulting with our Islamabad bureau, reading other news organisations’ reports and scouring the web, I have the feeling — familiar to anyone who has reported from that part of the world — that the more you look at this deal, the less you see besides the fact of the deal itself. The devil isn’t hiding in the details because there aren’t many there. He’s playing a bigger political game.

First, look at the deal that made all the headlines. On February 16, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) government agreed with the local Swat Islamist leader Maulana Sufi Mohammad what was essentially a sharia-for-peace swap. The short text was all of two paragraphs in the original, as reported in the Urdu daily Roznama Express (Daily Express, below). The MEMRI Blog has the Urdu original (click here) and a translation that says they agreed that:

“…all non-Shari’a laws, i.e. those which are against the Koran and the Hadith, will stand ineffectual and cancelled, in other words, terminated …

“…Shariat-e-Muhammadi [Prophet Muhammad’s Shari’a] will be expediently implemented whose details are present in the books of Islamic jurisprudence and which is derived from four sources: Allah’s book [the Koran], Sunnat-e-Rasool [Prophet’s deeds], Ijma [Consensus], Qiyas [Reasoning].  No decision against it will be acceptable. In the event of revision, i.e. appeal, a house of justice, in other words a Shari’a court, will be created… whose decision will be final…

” …A sharia court system “will be implemented in totality with mutual consultation following the establishment of peace in the Malakand Division.”

The wording is so broad that it’s open to all sorts of interpretations. It was so vague that even the Pakistani media didn’t quote it much when reporting on the deal. After the overall fact of the deal itself, the news nugget here is the promise of a sharia appeals court for the area. A federal sharia appeals court already exists in Islamabad, so this seems to be more a practical local issue than a larger doctrinal one.

With that deal done, the government needs to issue a regulation establishing it in law. None has been signed so far, none has been published and journalists in Islamabad say none has been issued there. The Pashtun Post website has posted a text it describes as the proposed resolution, but it is actually a text drawn up last year when the NWFP government first considered reestablishing sharia in Swat. It’s a good bet that the final wording will be quite close to this long legal text, which basically sets out the composition of the more sharia-compliant courts to be established in the region.

How does it stipulate sharia should to be applied? In the relevant paragraph, it simply says:

“A Qazi (Islamic judge) shall seek guidance from Quran Majeed (Noble Koran) and Sunna-e-Nabvi (way of the Prophet) … for the purposes of procedure and proceedings of conduct, resolution and decision, of cases and shall decide the same in accordance with Shariah. While expounding and interpreting the Quran Majeed and Sunna e Nabvi … the Qazi shall follow the established principles of expounding and interpreting Quran Majeed and Sunna-e-Nabvi … and, for this purpose, shall consider the expositions and opinions of recognized Fuqaha’a (jurists) of Islam.”

(Photo: Swat girls return to school after peace deal, 23 Feb 2009/Adil Khan)

In other words, we still have no specifics. And it’s looking like we won’t get many more even when President Asif Ali Zardari signs and issues the final text. Sharia looks secondary here to the ceasefire the deal ushered in. The final sentence of the Feb. 16 agreement summed it up:‘‘We request Maulana Sufi Mohammad bin al-Hazrat Hasan to end his peaceful protest [for implementation of Sharia] and help the government in establishing peace in all the areas of Malakand Division.’’

That sentence also contains the deal’s Achilles heel. Maulana Sufi Mohammad is only one player on the Islamist scene in Swat. “Help the government in estabilishing peace” means convincing his son-in law Maulana Fazlullah, who has forged ties with other Pakistani Taliban factions and al Qaeda, to give up the fight.  His group did announce a ceasefire this week, but he might just be using that to refresh his forces for the next round of fighting. As our report noted: “Authorities have struck peace deals with militants in several parts of the northwest over recent years, including one in Swat last May, but none has succeeded in eliminating militant sanctuaries.”

We’re not the only ones saying that. For example, Najmuddin Shaikh, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary and its former ambassador to Washington, explained in the Daily Times why the deal is getting such short shrift:

“It is a sad but almost foregone conclusion that this agreement will be no more effective than the ones concluded in the past, and that while there will be a welcome albeit temporary respite from the daily bloodletting in Swat, the strife will soon resume.”

Another question is why Pakistan should agree to a local sharia regime if it already has sharia law. Well, it does and it doesn’t. The constitution says no law can be repugnant to Islam and there are some specifically Islamic laws, such as the one on hudood offenses such as blasphemy, fornication, apostasy and blasphemy. But the court system is based on the secular model established during the British colonial period. Courts are overloaded with cases and some are shamelessly corrupt. So a traditional sharia court where the qazis handed down verdicts with more speed and less fuss than the civil courts can appeal to Pakistanis frustrated with the secular system, regardless of the school of Islam they follow.

The Swat deal would set deadlines of up to six months to decide cases and would also set up an appellate court for the region. But they will not be “qazi courts” run by Islamic scholars and the judges will not even need to be experts in Islamic law. The 2008 text says hiring preference would be given to “those judicial officers who have completed a Sharia course of four months duration from a recognised institution.”

(Photo: Swat residents inspect a school blown up by Taliban, 19 Jan 2009/Abdul Rehman)

These details are interesting, but they hardly mean much to an outside reader. And they pale in the wider context of the major political struggle going on in the region, which is what Reuters and other main news organisations are focusing on. In his column in The News, Islamabad political analyst Ayaz Amir warned against “missing the essence of Talibanism”:

“I think we are not getting it. Talibanism in Afghanistan is a revolt against the American occupation … Pakistani Talibanism … is a slightly different phenomenon …  It is a revolt against the Pakistani state. Or rather a revolt against the dysfunctional nature of this state.

“If this were Nepal this would be a Maoist uprising. If this were a Latin American country it would be a peasant or a Guevarist uprising. Since it is Pakistan, the revolt assaulting the bastions of the established order comes with an Islamic colouring, Islam reduced to its most literal and unimaginative interpretations at the hands of those leading the Taliban revolt.

“…This revolt is spreading. Hitherto it was confined to the Frontier Province. But on February 7 we saw this revolt cross the River Indus for the first time when a police check post in Mianwali (Qudratabad near Wan Bachran) was attacked by Taliban fighters. On Feb 11 another police outpost near Essa Khail came under attack.”

If Pakistan were considering a more sharia-compliant justice system in relatively calm areas such as Islamabad or Lahore, it would presumably hold lengthy discussions and produce detailed guidelines to be followed by law-abiding citizens. That would be interesting to drill down into. But Swat and neighbouring areas of NWFP are in the grip of an armed insurgency. The Taliban militants have unleashed a reign of terror on the region, killing and beheading politicians, singers, soldiers and opponents and destroying nearly 200 girls’ schools. They’re the men with guns who will ultimately decide how this vague deal is implemented. Or if it is implemented at all.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Unfortunetly, the people that dont agree with islamic fundamentalists practices were abandoned to death by the paquistani government. Again, no muslim will have their houses and lives destroyed by people that are widely accepted in the west.

Posted by Rogerio Schneider | Report as abusive

[…] FaithWorld » Blog Archive » The more you look, the less you see in … […]

Posted by Woot! What’s Buzzing Now? » Blog Archive » VíDeo Pede Para Hamas NãO Aceitar TréGua « Fatos E Atualidades | Report as abusive

[…] FaithWorld. […]

Posted by Pakistan: How Vulnerable is Punjab? « The Stupidest Man on Earth | Report as abusive

Talianization of entire Pakistan will not happen. Taliban has been successful so far due to the rough terrain and the local population which is rather primitive, poor and orthodox. Urban Pakistan is different. The terrain is flat. It is easy for these kinds of militia groups to run a guerrilla style warfare. And then the military can hold its ground. So they will play on their strengths – confine themselves to their pockets and rule from there. A few bomb blasts here and there, a few assassinations would happen on a regular basis. And all the militants will gravitate to these areas and no one will chase them. Pakistanis will make a deal with them and try to get at India to keep their morale up.

Posted by Mauryan | Report as abusive

Looking at history/Muslim nations, Swat happenings are default passive mode for Muslims nations and Pak is getting the inevitable–there will be a bit of struggle before resigning and sadly masses will start explaining that it is in fact good. Turkey which is democratic/secular is also influenced by radicalism. Just different shades of grey but inherently dark anyways. Problem is lack of naturally occurring counter mechanisms in the society.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive


Posted by ash | Report as abusive

It is a rather interesting article and as a Pakistani citizen it deeply saddens me to see that the government has been forced to strike deals with blind followers of a violent ideology who want nothing but a primitive and backward system, if one at all, where women aren’t supposed to study yet men can grow poppy, all of which run contrary to Islam and common sense in general.

As for ignorant people like ash (last comment before me) who blindly, much like the taliban, draw conclusions possible due to the lack of knowledge and judgement, hopefully can see that large population centres where a majority of the literate Pakistan population lives want progress, want peace, love, prosperity, etc.

Tough economic times and corruption have been a big factor in Pakistan not controlling the western frontier which has always been a sanctuary for millions of Afghani refugees for decades that share a lot of cultural similarities and language with the pashtuns that reside in that area; which has given the Taliban an ideal haven to grow and spread it’s nonsensical and anti-islamic ideology. As a devout muslim, I can say that if Taliban has achieved anything is the past years, then it is in destorying Islam’s beautiful and logical image. Hopefully the current Obama administration continues to ponder more vigorously and takes action after realizing that a economically and militarily strong Pakistan is in the interest of everybody.

Posted by Zain | Report as abusive

I want to share an article:
Pakistan, & the Myth of Islamic Terrorism
by Rakesh Saxena January 2008 icles/pakistan-the-myth-of-islamic-terro rism-296403.html

In the above article the author rightly argues that what is happening in Swat is a struggle between warlords, armed tribes and unemployed frustrated youth on one hand and police, bureaucracy and traders on the other side. Swat needs schools, roads, hospitals and busniness opportunities so that more youngsters have employment opportunities. Everything else will take care of itself. Swat peace agreement is not very defined, it is very general in nature which is the requirement. The government has agreed in principle to allow Sharia law. All that matters now is that schools have re-opened in Swat with girls and boys back to their classrooms.

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive

“Pakistan asks for US drones”

Two things will happen to the drone after Pakistan gets the remote controls:
1. Pakistan army will fly it to China to create an anti-drone Or
2. Taliban will fly it to the nearest destinations: US embassy in Islamabad or New Delhi .. fully loaded. 09&sectionid=351020401

Posted by David | Report as abusive

Will Good Times Ever Return to the Swat Valley?

Ahmed Rashid, a journalist and author of a best-selling book about the Taliban, says the recent cease-fire is merely the calm before the storm. “The Taliban do not stop at one demand,” explains Rashid. “All this points to a collapse of will of both the army and the government to deal with this in a more logical manner.”  ,8599,1881532,00.html

Posted by David | Report as abusive

Largely agree with the comment made by Zain. The issues facing Pakistan today are primarily political…religion (and its manipulation) is merely a tool to attract and/or control a population according principles suitable for a certain political ideology.

If moderate and forward-thinking Pakistanis run the government, then I do believe that an economically strong Pakistan would be in everybody’s interests. But the moot point here is: who really controls Pakistan today, and will control it tomorrow? Do the moderates really have a chance and how?

Posted by Paritosh | Report as abusive

Zain is in usual denial mode and dismissive as an action of uneducated and underprivileged; and Umair said its all to do with jobs and development.

An American Pakistani looks at it from a very different prism: th/salman_ahmad/2009/02/rescuing_pakista n_from_the_tal/all_comments.html


The problem is not just the Taliban, but archaic mentality of most Pakistanis and I especially include educated Pakistanis. They have all been brain-washed by mullahs to the extent that even educated Pakistanis shy away from honest discussions. This handicap exists even in Pakistani diasporas in various parts of the world. In Louisville, KY, exists a group of a few hundred Pakistanis almost all of whom are accomplished professionals and most of whom are successful practicing doctors. They have a group email address. The other day, a fanatical member posted a fatwa saying that it was wrong to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day and also it was wrong to be a friend with non-Muslims. When I strongly objected to this assault on humanity in the name of Islam, another fanatic started to justify the fatwa. A handful spoke against it, but they castigated me more for being so open than condemned the fatwa. Suddenly, every one’s feelings started to get hurt, and the issue died. The fatwa still stands and every one in the group has promised to be polite to each other and not offend each other. So much for the abilities of educated Pakistanis to confront the Taliban and its like.

Living here in USA this spinechilling news convinces me swat is just the tip of iceberg.

Posted by azad dp | Report as abusive

Honey, I shrunk Pakistan!

“Successive Pakistani governments are making a habit of surrendering territory and sovereignty to the Taliban in exchange for nothing”

Pakistan is slowly shriveling up. I guess the next time Benazir Bhutto’s ghost visits her dear husband President Zardari, his one line report will say, “Honey, I shrunk Pakistan!”

“By securing their eastern front through peace deals with Pakistan, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are free to focus their entire firepower on American and NATO forces”

“the deals give the Taliban and Al-Qaeda safe havens where they can train, recruit and fundraise” htm

Posted by Amy | Report as abusive

The moral equivalence being drawn between Shariat [“speedy” and “just”] and secular legal system [“corrupt” and “slow”] by Islamabad-friendly Reuters and other media correspondents is shocking, to say the least.

If Shariat is seen as just and speedy, why not push the whole world into accepting it?

Posted by Venkat | Report as abusive

This trend of retreating and shrinking the government’s writ geographically seems to have just begun. I think soon we might hear of more areas in the north and perhaps even Balochistan compromised. I will call this slow death of a country that has long been on the verge of a total collapse as a failing state.

Posted by SMJ | Report as abusive

Taliban funding will most likely arrive in 2 fashions:

(1) secretly from wealthy Arab nations.
(2) kidnapping, extortion and blackmailing of Swati families who have relatives working in Western countries USA, UK…etc). Might as well include Dubai.

Posted by bulletfish | Report as abusive

Venkat, go back and read that passage more carefully. I said “more speed and less fuss,” but you twisted that into “speedy” and “just.” I made no statement about the justice of such courts. It’s also interesting to see that you seem to want to defend Pakistani courts against charges of being corrupt and slow. I wonder how many Pakistani readers would agree with that…

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Another theory for this ceasefire could be, that something BIG is cooking up in Pakistan, May be they are planning some really big attack on INDIA or USA, Political govt. or Army knows it and just to deny it later on, they are giving safe havens to terrorists in SWAT and around.

Giving Shariya to taliban NOW will provide diplomatic cover to paki govt LATER. They will blame NON-STATE actors in SWAT this time, regret the ceasefire decision, impose pakistani law again in swat and ask more money from world to fight terrorism.

Anybody thinking similar thing ?

Posted by Punjabiyaar | Report as abusive

Agreeing to a ceasefire without clear terms and without making provisions for the Taliban to disarm – or even moderate its charter – sounds like a really, really dumb idea. This is a coup for the Taliban and will only embolden them in the region.

Do the maths: Taliban fighters blow up the Indian embassy in Afghanistan; they assisanate Pakistan’s Bhutto in a wave of suicide bombings; they launch a Mumbai-style attack on Kabul’s ministries; they ramp up attacks on US convoy routes; they resume brutal beheadings of innocent foreign civilians…

And the Pakistani government’s response? Bowing down to an unconditional ceasefire with zero culpability and no real prospect of altering the Frontier Province’s apocalyptic path. It boggles the mind.

Posted by riverScrap | Report as abusive

Pakistan will keep on asking for more money because in this economic climate it will carry on play victim and passive supporter of terrorism. Zardari will keep stating that if Pakistan fails, the world fails speech over and over like a broken record.

Pakistanis (even in the diaspora) will soon stop calling themselves Pakistani. If asked where they are from, they will reply that they are Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtun, Baluchi, Swati…etc.

It reminds me of the time after the Iranians stormed the US embassy in Tehran and kidnapped the Americans. Most Iranians started saying, “No, I am not Iranian, I am Persian.”

Everyone gets ashamed of their motherland’s actions and distances themselves from it.

Posted by bulletfish | Report as abusive

Swat peace treaty is a good step taken by the apk government. Before the shariah people there used to get their heads cut off! there was no justice at all now atleast there is peace there.

Posted by Noor Fatima | Report as abusive