The Ghost of 'Shariah' Continues to Haunt Swat
The Nation
June 23-24, 1995
The Frontier government may have once again succeeded in subduing Shariah seekers in the Malakand Division. However, this does not mean that the religious trouble there has gone for good. As long as economic and political grievances of the people of this NWFP- administered region remain intact, and as long as the vast majority of people live in abject ignorance, the governments in Peshawar and Islamabad must be ready to face in coming months the sporadic incidents of public disorder and violence in the name of Shariah.

This is the third time in the last about one year that Therik Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi’s militants have taken the law into their hands and restored to the use of force with the stated intention of establishing a form of Shariah in their region which they believe is the real system of Islamic government. In the process, during the past one year, well over 50 people have died: some 11 in Buner in May 1993, over 40 in November 1994 across Swat and Malakand, and 11 this week.

Every time, the cause of the revolt has been the same, so has been the purpose. In May1993, TNSM activists blocked the main road in Buner to protest against the by-elections for one of the vacant seats of the Frontier Assembly. The purpose was to sabotage the election process, which, these activists believed, was contrary to Shariah principles.

The November Uprising

In November last year, one sessions judge from Mingora in Swat district had gone to Matta, a Swat Tehsil, to establish a one-day court there. Terming the court un-Islamic, the militants took the judge, many lawyers and officials of the district civil and police administrations hostage. Later, they killed one Frontier MPA as well. For almost a week, the entire Malakand Division remained under total chaos. The chaotic situation thus created came to an end only after the Frontier Corps undertook a surgical operation against the rebels. The recent trouble began when one activist of the TNSM in Matta refused to pay the land revenue, only Rs 54, to a Qazi appointed by the government.

At least on two occasions when the trouble surfaced in the area, the Frontier government appeased the militants, agreeing to their undue demands. In May 1994, immediately after the Buner killings, the NWFP government promised a package of Shariah rules to the Malakand people. The package was not implemented. Consequently, the trouble resurfaced in a much more grave form last November. Again, in response to the bloodbath that took place in various parts of the Malakand Division n November 1994, the Frontier government announced the enforcement of Shariah immediately. The system was established, with the Frontier government appointing Qazi courts. TNSM leaders then objected to the appointment of beardless Qazis. Their demand is that provisions like land revenue negate the rules of Shariah.

Drawing a Line

The Frontier authorities must draw a line where to stop TNSM from making demands that go against the spirit of the country’s constitution and Islamic tradition. The provincial government’s threat to Tehrik militants to disband or face the use of force by the state’s internal security machinery appears to have made a difference. The government also seems to have realized one of the root-causes of the crisis. It has promised to spend Rs. 200 million of development funds exclusively in the Malakand Division. Whether or not this amount will be really spent on development is another matter.

Matta has especially been the main source of TNSM revolt, as the November 1994 uprising by TNSM also originated there. Criminals within the extremist movement hail from this Swat valley town won. Whenever its Tehsil administration acts contrary to their desires, they take the shelter of Shariah ad formet trouble.

For instance, the main culprit of the last bloody revolt was TNSM leader in Matta Advocate Muzaffar Saeed, who was arrested during the security operation, only to be released some time later. There are at least some 20 cases of theft, murder and rape against him in Swat district’s session court. It is notorious figures like him who exploit the social, economic and political grievances of the people and play with their conservative religious beliefs.

The government needs to invest massively in education in the region, as well as allow its people greater participatory role in politics. The development funds that the NWFP government has allocated to Malakand Division will have to be honestly spent. That TNSM activists were afraid of resorting to arms this time is quite understandable. The November 1994 surgical operation by Maj Gen Fazal Khan of the Frontier Corps has certainly instilled fear among TNSM militants.

Deterring Violence

The only thing that can deter a saboteur from resorting to the use of force for political, religious, or any other end is the cost of such an action. If the cost is life itself, those who side with the forces violently challenging the writ of the State without having any strong association with a cause, lack the courage to stand up before state forces. Last year, by taking a very strict action against TNSM rebels, the paramilitary forces had swiftly accomplished this goal.

Malakand’s situation is not different from the rest of the country: seemingly, no two persons may have a consensus on what form of Shariah should be enforced. Given that, the options the government has are: not to let anyone in Malakand exploit Shariah for political or any other reason; start a widespread campaign to educated the masses; invest heavily in the economic development of the region; allow its population more political participation, and disarm the people of the area.