Pakistan has agreed to restore Islamic law in the turbulent Swat valley and neighbouring areas of the North-West Frontier Province. What does that mean? Sharia is understood and applied in such varied ways across the Muslim world that it is difficult to say exactly what it is. Will we soon see Saudi or Taliban-style hand-chopping for thieves and stonings for adulterers? Would it be open to appeal and overturn harsh verdicts, as the Federal Sharia Court in Islamabad has sometimes done? Or could it be that these details are secondary because sharia is more a political than a religious strategy here? (Photo: Swat Islamic leaders in Peshawar to negotiate sharia accord/16 Feb 2009/Ali Imam)
As is often the case in Pakistan, this issue has two sides — theory and practice. In theory, this looks like it should be a strict but not Taliban-style legal regime. As Zeeshan Haider in our Islamabad bureau put in in a Question&Answer list on sharia in Swat:
WHAT KIND OF ISLAMIC JUDICIAL SYSTEM IS SWAT GETTING?
Under Nizam-e-Adl or Islamic system of justice, all judicial laws contrary to Islamic teachings stand cancelled and the courts will decide the cases in line with Islamic injunctions.
These laws were largely in use before Swat was absorbed into Pakistan in 1969, and governments in the 1990s had promised to implement them to placate militants, but never fully did.
Unlike the Taliban courts, which have been summarily handing out severe punishments like chopping off hands of thieves and stoning to death adulterers and rapists, there will be a system of appeal on the decisions handed out by courts in Swat and neighbouring districts.