Pakistan Parliamentarians Test By Fire
The Pakistani Parliamentarians are going to face a test by fire, which will determine whether they will compromise the integrity and sovereignty of the nation to the demands of the Taliban or continue to foster the vision of a modern nation integrating with a globalized World. Ironically this may be the first time in recent history in Pakistan that the judgment will be made by representatives of the people rather than the military hierarchy.
This test by fire is the decision on the draft Nizam-e-Adl Regulation, 2009 to be implemented in the Malakand division which includes the troubled Swat district. NWFP Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani signed the draft of Nizam-e-Adl (Shariat) Regulation 2009, forwarding it to the President for a final approval in Malakand division and Kohistan district by March 15, and would have a retrospective effect from February 16, 2009.
The Nizam-e-Adl regulation will repeal the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Ordinance 2001. Before this the NWFP government signed a 17-point deal with the banned Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) in the Swat valley. 'A 17-point understanding was reached with a TNSM delegation ' music has been banned in Swat,' a senior official was reported to have told Daily Times.
The provincial government led by the Awami National Party is pressing for this decision send to the President, Mr Zardari, who has in turn sent the Nizam e Adl through which the Sharia is to be implemented in the Malakand Agency to the National Assembly. It remains to be seen now how the National Assembly members respond to this challenge.
This was the right course for the President for it is important to build consensus on the issue rather than taking arbitrary decision. However a delay may only lead to building up further pressure by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Swat and the Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM). These militant organizations accused of anarchy in Swat, Pakistan's erstwhile Switzerland, have threatened to excommunicate any member of the National Assembly (NA) who votes against the Adl. The Daily Times reported the TTP Swat spokesman Muslim Khan threatening NA members opposing the regulation to contest the next election only 'if he remained alive'. Similarly the TNSM spokesman Amir Izzat stated that those opposing the regulation during the debate in the assembly would be declared non-Muslim.
The last time to coerce the members of the provincial assembly in North West Frontier Province the TTP and the TNSM leaders had issued a list of members on the hit list who would be eliminated leading to speedy acquiescence to the demand. We hope the National Assembly members would respond differently.
While implementation of the Sharia by popular choice may not have become an issue except that this has been done through use of force, coercion and intimidation by the TNSM and the TTP. This demand is a long standing one in the past, the TNSM has succeeded in forcing the hands of the provincial government through a campaign of terror unleashed in the Swat district the most horrendous example of which was lashing of a 17 year old girl for a crime she or her relative had never committed. With the Pakistani security forces unwilling to face the challenge of militancy, the civil government could do little but to surrender in the face of continuing intimidation.
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi while talking to Karan Thapar of CNN IBN seemed to indicate that only certain 'pockets' of Swat are under the control of the Taliban or under attack. 'I will not deny that it's a concern,' he said. The choices to overcome these concerns seem to be limited for the government with the security forces virtually abdicating challenging the terrorists holding civil society to ransom.
The other fear is that the TTP will extend demand for Sharia to other areas and with its favorite tactics of kidnapping with limited resistance by the army and the police; there would be a clean run to the guerrillas.
The Parliament will determine whether the Nizam e Adl is acceptable and also the way it would be implemented. This would also set into motion a larger debate in Pakistan and would be a true test of the democratic and modern governance credentials of the state and its leadership.
With the TTP attempting to intimidate the Pakistani parliamentarians will the government be strong enough to stand by those who oppose the Sharia remains to be seen. The right course for the Government would be to send a clear signal to the TTP and the TNSM that its campaign of threats will not work. Simultaneously beefing up of security of all the National Assembly members should be undertaken, for the Taliban is not above kidnapping a few including some respectable lady members.
The Pakistani government knows too well that any surrender will only lead to more demands by the Taliban. It is time that the state stands against the demands of anarchists, lest the doomsday scenario of a failed state with nuclear weapons comes true in the not too distant future.
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Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle Col. Rahul K.Bhonsle
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