Monthly Archives: September 2009

Today’s random reading.

This piece by the excellent Simon Jenkins at The Guardian.

An autumn sun was shining. A late rose bloomed in the garden. The blackbird was in song. Then the BBC did its bit. No sooner was the morning news over than the radio cried: “Now for rape … We should warn listeners that this programme contains explicit descriptions of rape.” Just the thing for a nice cup of coffee.

A presumably female audience was then treated to a morning menu of unrelieved misery. After rape, Woman’s Hour gave them codeine addicts, war widows, thigh-high boots and heroin-dosed children taken into care. A discussion on how to survive brain damage offered some light relief.

This fare was not exceptional. A Martian listening to Radio 4 today would assume that the females on planet Earth were a genus of raped, harassed, child-oppressed, drug-addicted, underpaid and joyless victims, living in a perpetual state of dependency and bowel cancer. Not since Genesis have women had a worse press.

Also, this from The Guardian‘s Sportsblog, on sportswriting.

The last thing the sportblog needs is an essay straddling the disparate worlds of media studies and amateur psychology, especially on a subject as esoteric as the American media’s bizarre obsession with the British media. But it’s my blog, so here goes. I promise to keep it short.

Sports journalism in America has long had a very high opinion of itself. This was justified in years past, when the likes of Jim Murray, Red Smith and, latterly, Rick Reilly established themselves as the finest sportswriters in the English language. That tradition has faded in recent years, although the self-regard has not. The upshot is a refusal of some – though not all – American sports journalists to face up to their own failings, the most grating of which is abject sycophancy towards those whom they cover. Rather than address this, and other, flaws, it is much easier to address what they perceive to be the flaws of others, not least because it reinforces their own sense of misplaced superiority.



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Mastermind Pakistan: Rashid Rauf wins.

That is, of course, assuming he’s still alive.

For background, read this, this, this and this. In fact, just read whatever The Guardian has on this, their coverage has been excellent.

So, the long and the short of it is that three men – Abdulla Ahmed Ali, Assad Sarwar and Tanvir Hussain – have been found guilty of plotting to use liquid-based explosives to bring down airliners on their way from Great Britain to the US and Canada. Other suspects were convicted of lesser charges. All of this after each of the men was found not guilty during an earlier trial, a decision which the Crown immediately appealed.

Each of these men were either planning to be on the airplanes with the explosives, or had helped in the preparation of the explosive devices and the plot. Assad Sarwar and Abdulla Ali, in particular, appear to have travelled to Pakistan numerous times to receive training and instructions regarding this plot, which, if it had been successful, would have been the deadliest attack since the World Trade Centre was brought down on Sept 11, 2009.

But who planned the whole thing? British authorities say it was one Rashid Rauf, a wanted militant who was arrested in Pakistan just days before the plot was supposed to have been put into action. Now, knowing that the US was fairly anxious that arrests be made, regardless of whether or not the British authorities felt enough evidence  had been gathered to convict those suspected of being involved, it’s not outrageous to think that the US may well have had something to do with the Rauf arrest in Pakistan. With the mastermind behind bars, the UK authorities were forced to move in, before the suspects realised that the authorities were on to them.

As it turns out, the Crown’s case seems to have been carefully built on a huge amount of surveillance data (it’s worth studying UK Anti-Terror Laws, to see just how much of a leash counter-terrorism officials are given when investigating a suspected ‘plot’), and MI5 and the Crown Prosecution Service were able to put together something that held up in court.

But what of Rashid Rauf?

Well, here’s what happened to our man Rauf. After being arrested in August 2006, he was in Pakistani custody, and while he had not been charged with anything in court, he was in police custody for ‘questioning’. He remained there for over a year, during which time the Pakistani authorities found nothing to charge him with, apparently, but continued to say they were ‘open to the idea’ of extraditing him to the UK, if he was required there, though no extradition treaty exists between the two countries. In the meantime, they charged him under Section 4/5 of the Exposives Act, which is the standard charge given to everyone (citizens, political activists, stray dogs) and their mother (terrorists) who the Pakistani police wish to detain.

December 2006, and all charges against him are dropped. He is not, however, released.

December 2007, and Rashid Rauf, a top terrorism suspect who the UK says it has evidence against, escapes while being transported from court back to jail. According to police officials, speaking anonymously at the time, he was being transported in a daala (a police mobile) along with his uncle, who was accompanying him during the court proceedings. There were also two police constables in the vehicle. As the journey was being made close to lunch time, the uncle offered to buy the two police constables lunch. They ate their meal, and then all proceeded to a mosque, as it was Zuhr time, and apparently it is standard operating procedure to accept lunch from your prisoners, who happen to be suspected of masterminding large terrorist attacks, and to then allow them to pray with you.

Not surprisingly, Rauf escaped into the crowd.

Nov 22, 2008: The US says they’ve killed Rashid Rauf in a drone missile attack in FATA. The reports were never confirmed, however, and a number of people believe that, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, Rauf  is still alive and well.

Pakistan. Home to the Masterminds. Aa jao. . . the lunch is on us.

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Note to lawyers: You, too, are part of the judicial system.

(Originally published in Dawn, Sept 7, 2009. Click here.)

KARACHI, Sept 6: Despite Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry’s National Judicial Policy requiring all rent cases to be decided within four months (and subsequent appeals within 30 days), rent cases in the city’s courts continue to be dragged out, mainly because of the “delaying tactics” of lawyers, a survey shows.

The NJP 2009 stipulates various measures to be taken to speed up the process of hearing rent cases, but legal analysts warn that it may be too early to judge the system. Lawyers at the city courts, however, say that changes are being made.

“It is ambitious, but it is doable,” a lawyer who deals with rent cases on a regular basis at the city courts told Dawn on condition of anonymity. He quickly added, however, that the policy can only be implemented “if lawyers cooperate with it”. Elaborating, he explained that most rent cases are “fairly straightforward, in terms of the law”, but can be dealt with within the stipulated four months only if lawyers do not ask for dates of adjournment and stop filing various petitions and applications that, in some cases, may be irrelevant to the matter in hand.

“The court can enforce control on them to a degree,” he said, “but in some cases even the court’s hands are tied.

“The speed has increased significantly, however, from what it was before. It is getting more and more difficult to get adjournments, and closer dates are being given for hearings. So, for example, where once one’s next hearing would be a month away, it is now just four days away.

“Judges are also dismissing sides if they do not appear on the date of hearing to deliver evidence or arguments or to offer testimony. Unlike their earlier practice, they sit for longer hours in courts.”

Each judge, on average, has about 500 cases on his or her board, with between 100 and 150 pertaining to rent matters, say lawyers. And this is where another snag in the legal process presents itself. Even with quicker procedures being adopted, the system remains clogged with the sheer weight of numbers.

“If your turn comes, then [a four-month period] is very possible,” said a lawyer. “But there are so many cases, though, and that is the problem.”Increasing the number of judges, lawyers say, can only help so much, as the city’s courts are already at bursting point. There would, quite literally, be nowhere for justice to be delivered.

A lengthy process

The process in rent cases, too, is fairly arduous.

Rent cases begin when a notice is sent to a tenant or landlord, as the case may be, by the applicant. The case is heard in the court of a rent controller for the relevant district. Rent controllers are also senior civil judges, and hear a variety of other cases as well. In Sindh, rent cases are decided under the Sindh Rented Premises Ordinance, 1979.

Once the case is filed, the defence files its written statement, explaining its position. Parties will then appear in court to present evidence and deliver testimony. For example, in a case involving the fixing of a fair rent, a litigant may ask a real estate agent to deliver his ‘expert opinion’ (an interesting fact, as there is no standard certification for real estate agents in this country) in the matter.

The law, say experts, is skewed in favour of the tenants, as the intention is to prevent illegal evictions and to ‘protect’ renters more than landlords.

After the evidence has been presented, advocates deliver their final arguments and the RC gives his or her verdict. That verdict can, of course, be appealed against (through the First Rent Appeal, Section 21 of the SRPO 1979) in the court of a district judge or additional district judge. The DJ/ADJ will review the decision and will decide whether to send the matter back to the RC for retrial.

“In the appeal stage, only the RC’s judgment is being questioned. There is no new evidence being presented and so it is very possible to dispose of it within 30 days if there is the will to do so,” said a lawyer.

If litigants are unsatisfied with the result of the appeal, they can also file a constitutional petition in the Sindh High Court. And if they remain unsatisfied, they can take the matter to the Supreme Court on another CP.

So how long does all this take?

“It takes three or four years, even for the simplest cases, and that too only in the trial court,” a lawyer experienced in rent cases told Dawn. “It’s because advocates will file miscellaneous applications regarding technicalities and side issues. The rent arrears, for example, are often a point of contention.”

‘Flaws at the very first stage’

As for litigants, they are convinced the process is flawed from the very first stage.

Enam Elahi, a landlord who has been tied up in litigation since 2004 regarding the premises he owns in the old quarters of the city, says that even the sending of notices to opponents takes months on occasions, as it is a process of sending multiple notices by hand, publishing advertisements in newspapers, and then finally pasting them on the premises.

“There is simply no penalty for not responding to legal notices,” he says, “and so advocates advise their clients to simply ignore them until they are directed by court to appear in person after a few months.”

Mr Elahi’s cases are not uncommon: he owns premises at Guru Mandir, where tenants have been paying the same rent since before partition. He has applied to the court to have the rent rates increased from Rs50-Rs100 per unit to a rate that is more in line with today’s market. “It is a simple thing,” he says, “and the courts should not overcomplicate it. And the advocates continue to take new dates, they are simply not pushed to get it done. Even they want to drag it out for as long as possible.

“Both the judges and the lawyers need to have a sense of social responsibility, and to simply get these cases done, rather than prolonging them.”

That is a thought echoed by Mrs Feroze Afaq Khan, another litigant, who has been pursuing cases regarding her properties on M.A. Jinnah Road since 1994. And the time it’s taken simply does not surprise her any longer, she says. “I’ve seen people who have been coming here for 10, 15, 25 years,” she says.

Mrs Khan would like to see changes being made by the judges, but more so by the lawyers. “The lawyers are a part of the judiciary,” she says. “They simply keep seeking new dates, keep delaying, keep filing miscellaneous applications. Their attitude is really quite lackadaisical. Unless we revamp our whole system, we can’t expect any changes.”

She added that one of the problems she has noticed is that the medium of the law is English, while many judges and most litigants are not well-versed in the language. Further, she added that even when cases end, they continue to be delayed. For example, if a case is decided in one’s favour, she said, and an eviction is ordered, then “you have to go all the way back to the senior civil judge to get eviction notices issued. And then you’re back to square one”.

“If I was dependent on my properties for my income,” she concludes, “then I would be in a terrible state. The government keeps raising the property taxes and fees that I pay, but the courts refuse to allow me to raise rents above what they were before partition.”

Do litigants think there is any hope, then, for the NJP to really be enforced?

“It can be done in four months, absolutely,” says Mr Elahi, “but it needs a will behind it. The judges need to penalise both lawyers and litigants if they resort to delaying tactics, but, more than that, the lawyers’ cooperation is essential.”

Other litigants, meanwhile, believe the system requires a complete overhaul, even as most agree that stricter penalties need to be enforced against those who would delay the legal process.

All in all, then, it appears that while the judiciary is taking steps to speed up the hearing of rent cases, which form perhaps the largest chunk of at the very least Karachi’s court cases, much more remains to be done. Significantly, the lawyers who fought for the restoration of the chief justice of Pakistan and for the ‘independence of the judiciary’ are being expected to show the same sort of ‘social responsibility’ when it comes to dealing with actual cases.

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Victims of a broken system

(Originally published at, here)

KARACHI: The PPP government claims to prioritise women’s rights in Pakistan. But the state of the medico-legal system indicates that the official commitment to improving conditions for women is nothing more than lip service.

The medico-legal officer’s (MLO) report in cases of alleged rape forms the basis of most investigations and any subsequent conviction. But Dawn has learnt that not only are there just six female MLOs in total at the Karachi’s major government hospitals, but those MLOs findings are also limited to just a few indicators. Furthermore, DNA tests to establish the guilt or innocence of suspects are often not carried out ‘due to the expense.’

In rape and sexual assault cases, the verifiable evidence is almost wholly medical in nature, and hence the ‘lack of competent, conscientious medical examination will hinder or perhaps even negate any subsequent legal proceedings,’ according to a paper on the ‘Medical Investigation of Alleged Rape’ published in the US-based Western Journal of Medicine.

In Pakistan, an MLO will usually only examine an alleged rape survivor after the police issue a letter asking for such an examination. The MLO will then examine the survivor and issue a report detailing her clinical findings (female survivors are always examined by female MLOs). Male suspects are examined by male MLOs in order to establish whether they were capable of carrying out the sexual act, a test called the ‘male potency test.’

Women’s rights groups such as the Aurat Foundation say there needs to be a stricter enforcement of these medical procedures, and that there needs to be a centralised authority that monitors all alleged rape cases.

After all, the timely examination of victims is crucial in order to collect medical evidence of sexual assault. But according to Hassan Pathan, an activist with the Aurat Foundation, many cases are buried at the police station level when police officers do not promptly issue letters for a medical examination. This is why the Aurat Foundation is pushing for a ‘central reporting point, a computerised system whereby if a rape case is reported at any government hospital, a central authority is informed and can follow it up.’

‘We want them to send the letter and report directly to the SP or to the Capital City Police Officer,’ says Pathan. ‘This will ensure that a case is registered, as often the police will get a report but not file an FIR.’

In either case, once a letter is issued by the police, the MLOs will carry out a medical examination of the rape survivor, in order to ascertain whether or not intercourse has taken place, and to collect samples of semen and other bodily fluids if they are present on the clothes or body of the survivor.

‘The female MLO will look for signs of resistance and bruising, as well as marks of violence,’ says Dr Kaleem Shaikh, senior MLO at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre. ‘This helps to indicate whether or not there is consent.’

As far as internal examinations are concerned, if the victim is unmarried, the female MLOs will ‘check to see if the woman is a virgin or not,’ explains Dr Nisar Ali Shah, an MLO at Karachi’s Civil Hospital. JPMC’s Dr Shaikh adds, ‘the MLO will look for tears or bruising near the vagina, in order to establish if force was used.’

Basing medical opinions on ‘attitudes’

Interestingly, Dr Shaikh at the JPMC believes that more important that the medical examination are MLOs’ ‘findings and impressions of the alleged victim.’ He says that the MLO will usually be able to tell from the ‘attitude’ of the victim and a general examination whether or not there has been non-consensual intercourse.

Such impressions are recorded in a final ‘Opinion’ section of the report, where the MLO notes her clinical findings and documents whether any evidence was collected (vaginal swabs, clothes). ‘It is the responsibility of the MLO to present medical findings, so we will note what we find,’ says Dr Farida Ayaz, an MLO at Civil Hospital.

One would think that the MLO would also include her expert opinion – or ‘impressions’ – indicating whether or not sexual assault has occurred. But Ayaz, as well as other MLOs, have indicated that it is not their role to ascertain whether rape has occurred, rather their ambit only extends to the point of noting any signs of violence or resistance, reporting the state of the sexual organs, stating whether or not the female victim is a virgin and collecting samples.

Moreover, Civil Hospital’s Dr Shah admits the MLOs are at a loss if the woman is ‘married and has had several children, because then how can the MLO tell [from a vaginal examination] if rape has taken place?’ He says that in these cases, ‘the circumstantial evidence and attitude of the alleged victim are very important.’

The implication inherent here is that if a married woman is raped, and there are no overt signs of violence, MLOs are unable to provide medical evidence for the sexual assault.

As for unmarried female rape survivors, the news is not much better. If an unmarried woman is found not to be a virgin by an MLO, but the suspects in the sexual assault case are acquitted (due to a lack of medical evidence or otherwise), the woman could find herself implicated for zina under the Hudood Ordinance.

Lack of facilities hampers justice

A key part of the medical examination of an alleged rape victim is the collection of samples, both from the clothes of the victim and alleged attacker, and from the vagina of the victim. MLOs will take swabs from the vagina and send the samples for tests for the presence of semen. These samples can then be matched against samples of semen from any suspects. They will also collect the clothes of the victim, seal them, and send them to the chemical examiner’s office for further tests.

This, however, is another hitch in the system as there are currently only two chemical examiners’ offices for all of Sindh, one of which is present in Karachi. ‘We have just two chemical examiners for the entire population of Sindh,’ says Mr Pathan of the Aurat Foundation, emphasising that more facilities for forensic evidence testing are urgently needed, particularly in cases of alleged rape.

Meanwhile, Dr Shaikh confirms that MLOs do not use ultraviolet lights in order to ascertain whether or not semen is present on clothes (ultraviolet light allows the human eye to see semen stains which may not be normally visible). As such, there is little scope for basing a rape prosecution on sound medical evidence.

DNA tests are ‘too expensive’

Lastly, DNA tests, which are crucial in order to establish the identity beyond doubt of an alleged attacker, are seldom carried out in Pakistan. ‘We only do DNA tests for high profile cases, such as gang rape or incest. It is not done routinely. We only do it if the police ask for it,’ says Dr Aftab Channar, a senior MLO at Civil Hospital.

‘DNA testing is very expensive and the victims often can’t afford it. The government often doesn’t have enough interest to get the DNA testing done for every case,’ adds Aurat Foundation’s Pathan.

But the Police Surgeon in Karachi clarifies that DNA testing is not as inaccessible as it is made out to be. He says that the ‘prohibitive cost’ to which authorities refer is between Rs 7,000 and Rs 10,000. In other words, this is hardly the kind of expense that would bankrupt the provincial government, and yet, it is rarely used to ascertain guilt in rape cases.

It doesn’t help that the city’s only DNA testing facilities exist at the Dr A.Q. Khan Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Karachi, but not at the chemical examiners’ offices. Any tests done by the police, therefore, have to be sent to Islamabad, adding to delays.

In the absence of DNA and other chemical testing, medical evidence in rape cases amounts to little more than an MLO’s ability to ascertain the ‘attitude and demeanour’ of alleged rape victims. The medical aspects of evidence examination, therefore, remain under-emphasised in our current criminal procedure system. While MLOs are in no position to state whether or not rape has occurred as ‘rape’ is a criminal and not medical term, their reports and testimony in cases remain the main source of information outside of circumstantial evidence and the accounts of witnesses.

Overall, then, the system through which crucial evidence of sexual assault is delivered is massively flawed and requires a complete overhaul, both in terms of resources and attitudes. This is the only way for a government that claims to champions women’s rights to ensure that justice is not routinely miscarried.

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Why allege complicity when incompetence is an easier answer.

(Originally published on Aug 17, 2009, Dawn. Click here.)

To say that the Pakistani police are incompetent is an insult to the millions of incompetent people around the world who go about their jobs with dedicated mediocrity without ever being a danger to themselves or those around them.This is not, however, entirely their own fault.

One can put part of the blame on the lack of resources dedicated to police departments across the country; specifically, the lack of allocation of resources for capacity-building projects. Training standards remain low, and priorities appear to be oddly misplaced.

What is inexcusable, however, is the performance of the police department in routine crime cases. If records of daily crime and court stories in this city are anything to go by, officers give low priority to actually investigating cases and sifting through evidence. Crucially, investigation officers (IOs) consistently fail to present watertight cases in court, resulting in low conviction rates, even if the case against the accused appears to be strong.

Consider the case of the Rimpa Plaza killings, a sufficiently ‘high-profile’ case that one would think would merit proper investigation. On Sept 25, 2002, seven staff members of a Christian NGO, Idara-i-Aman-o-Insaf, were killed in their offices by men who allegedly belonged to a banned militant organisation.

The CID police did manage to locate and arrest three men — Muhammad Asif alias Pasha, Zubairuddin alias Sharjeel and Mohammad Atif — but only did so a full six years later in March 2008. And, it may be added, in a separate case entirely.These men apparently ‘confessed’ to being responsible for the Rimpa Plaza killings during their interrogations. Their co-accused, Wajahat and Mohammad Arshad, were arrested in Lahore on May 15 that year, also in another case. A case was registered (FIR 205/02) at the Garden police station in Karachi against all five men under Sections 302 (murder), 324 (attempted murder) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code, read with Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997.

It is what happens next that is interesting. The police produced their ‘star witness’, Robin Peera, who was injured in the attack, and said that he would identify all five of the men and provide eyewitness testimony that was beyond question.As the trial progressed, however, it became clear that the police’s case had all the solidity of a badly made soufflé. The court found glaring contradictions in the testimonies of the 20 prosecution witnesses put before it, including ‘star witness’ Robin Peera. The judge of the ATC, in fact, went as far as to suggest that Mr Peera was a ‘set-up witness’.

Furthermore, there were irregularities in the manner in which statements had been taken and identification parades carried out. The police had presented confessional statements taken under Section 161 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which are inadmissible in court due to the absence of a judicial magistrate. They also apparently showed the faces of the accused to Mr Peera prior to the two identification parades, thus invalidating the process.

Consequently, on March 13, 2009, the court acquitted all five of the accused in the case, citing a lack of evidence against them. What is startling is not the verdict itself — indeed, in light of the evidence presented to the court it had no choice — but the utter ineptitude of the investigation team in presenting a case which could be defended in court.

This is hardly atypical, and I have cited this case because it highlights common issues in many cases presented by the police. It appears that the police do not seem to realise that their entire raison d’être is to present a case before the court. It is not enough to simply stand guard at intersections, to patrol commercial areas or even to arrest suspects. The police’s job is not done unless criminals are, in fact, tried and found guilty. This, however, seems to have escaped the attention of Pakistan’s police officers.

The police are the most visible arm of the state. One of the foremost responsibilities of the said state, of course, is to ensure that the rule of law is followed and that those violating laws are caught and held responsible. Without that, the most basic premise of the state’s compact with its people is lost.

The courts may be the final arbiters of justice, but the police are the long arm of the law, so to speak; without them, the courts are powerless. It appears, however, that in Pakistan there is an unfathomable gap between the two, with mutual suspicion on both sides.

Predictably, it is the public that loses.

As mentioned earlier, however, not all of the police’s failings can be blamed on the officers themselves. There are broader issues that need to be addressed, as well, particularly in light of the police’s role in ensuring security in a country which has been gripped by violence and terrorist attacks for years. They have, to put it lightly, an unenviable task.

Proper focus is not being paid, however, to anti-terror training. The government in Sindh, for example, recently announced that it would be raising a 1,000-man strong ‘anti-terror force’ from the police cadres. This is well and good, but observers say little is being done on the ground on this front, and that many are being recruited to the force (which offers officers higher salaries and other perks) without actually going through any sort of counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism training.

Furthermore, the police consistently book even the most ‘notorious’ of terrorists/criminals in minor cases, rather than producing evidence regarding their activities. The arrest of one of Baitullah Mehsud’s ‘aides’, Badshah Deen, in Karachi in April this year is a prime example: he was charged with possession of illicit weapons, not with, for example, criminal conspiracy (a charge the police publicly accused him of).

As for their regular training, let this fact sum it up: police officers at the Sindh Police’s Razzaqabad training centre are expected to train for assault situations with rusted bullets. As much as I would like to take the credit for providing a poetic metaphor for the state of police training, that is, actually, a fact.

So, to summarise, our police force is badly trained and ill-equipped to deal with security threats, and hence is unable to guarantee the security of citizens (whether from terrorists or other criminals); they do not have the proper resources/training for carrying out investigations (with a particular lack of forensic/chemical labs, a subject which deserves an article unto itself); and they do not focus on producing cases against known criminals that can hold up in court, thus allowing possibly guilty men and women to go free.

It would be too harsh to ask, as is tempting given this data, what good the police is to anyone. Too harsh, but only by a whisker.

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More by luck than judgment.

(Originally published on June 8, 2009, Dawn. Click here.)


Sufi Muhammad, pictured just before speaking his mind. -Reuters

Asif Ali Zardari may just be a genius. It is, however, unlikely. What is more likely is that Pakistan just got very, very lucky (appearances to the contrary notwithstanding).

With the army claiming successes in the ongoing military operation in Swat, it is worth looking back at how a military operation became an option: it was due to the breakdown of the agreement between the Pakistani government and the Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM).

Make no mistake, the Nizam-i-Adl Regulation was a bad idea on the part of the NWFP government, insomuch as attempting to use it as a bandage to stop the massive bleeding in the province. The rationale at the time appeared to be to try and stop the violence first, and deal with the militants later, or, perhaps, not at all. This was not, strictly speaking, wise.

But the TNSM’s main source of support in Swat for the implementation of the Sharia included the people of the valley themselves. They were accustomed to it having been governed under a form of Islamic law under the wali until it was absorbed in Pakistan in 1969. The TNSM had been lobbying for a return to the Sharia since the early 1990s. The support of Swat’s citizens hinged on the demand for a quick and efficient judicial system. Whatever one may say about the Pakistani judicial system, it is neither quick nor efficient.

So, in principle, the citizens’ (and hence the TNSM’s) demands for a new system of justice were justified. As I argued at the time the Regulation was signed, the issue with the agreement was not what it was, it was how it would be implemented. By granting the TNSM and the Swat Taliban Sharia in the valley, the government had effectively robbed them of their raison d’être, particularly when it came to employing violent means. The key now was for the government to ensure that it was the one enforcing the new rules, and that it was its qazis in the courts and its police making the arrests. This did not happen.

At the time, however, the government still appeared satisfied with allowing events to continue, even as Sufi Muhammad and Maulana Fazlullah made it clear that the government’s interventions in the implementation of the Sharia were unwelcome. At least, it appears they thought, things aren’t exploding any longer. And so Swat was lost, for a time. And it could have continued to be, were it not for the jihadi in Sufi Muhammad, who made two key errors that led ultimately to the current military intervention in the valley.

The first was made during a speech to the masses, delivered in a grassy field in Mingora, flanked by smug government functionaries who were pleased with the apparent culmination of their efforts when they released Sufi Muhammad back in April 2008. The cleric, however, refused to stick to the script, and proceeded to damn everything from the Pakistani state to the media. Releasing his inner voice, he declared democracy, freedom of the media and the state of Pakistan — for good measure — ‘un-Islamic’. Not quite according to plan.

The second mistake the TNSM/Swat Taliban made was to begin a process of expansion soon after having signed the Regulation. It appears that for them the document was less of a pledge by the government to enforce the Sharia in Malakand division, and more a deed. Having taken the keys to the house, they saw no reason not to go about landscaping the land around them.

Matters reached an untenable position when the Swat Taliban moved into Buner, and then claimed to have retreated, leaving just a few ‘local Taliban members’ in the area. That there were virtually no Taliban members in Buner before the expansion was a fact that did not escape the Pakistani government’s attention, and ultimately, the current military operation became the only viable option.

Having been directly attacked, the media, which so far had largely backed the TNSM’s position in Swat, fell right into line with the government. The tide in the battle for public opinion began to turn, and the Pakistani public, which, at the best of times, is ambivalent towards the Taliban, began to realise that surrendering the writ of state, even if ostensibly to ‘Islamic’ clerics, may not be the best idea.

Mr Zardari, of course, now wants us to believe that this was the plan all along. The truth is that we got very, very lucky. Had Sufi Muhammad merely stuck to the party line during that (and subsequent) speeches, while subtly continuing his machinations in Swat, consolidating control and moving into neighbouring areas slowly, things would be much, much worse, and, moreover, the US nightmare of the Taliban in Afghanistan having another sanctuary in Pakistan would have become reality.

Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, recently stated that during the president’s visit to Washington, he confided to US President Barack Obama that he had known all along that the agreement would collapse, and that this was all one big ploy to rid the Taliban and TNSM of any legitimacy in Swat. That it has achieved the latter is unquestionable, but even if this was the plan, Mr Zardari took an awful risk in backing Sufi Muhammad’s inner voice.

So is he without sense or a genius? Well, it’s difficult to tell, as ever. Consider the series of peace deals that were struck with militants across Fata shortly after the PPP government came into power. At the time, the peace deals were decried by security analysts and the US, citing the precedent of previous deals which had merely allowed the militants time to rearm and regroup before launching fresh attacks on the state. And the peace deals duly collapsed, one by one, forcing the government to launch a series of military operations across the area and forming lashkars amongst local tribesmen to root out ‘foreigners’ and Taliban militants.

What one must realise is, however, that this series of peace deals was crucial as they lent legitimacy to the military action which followed them. If the Pakistan Army had simply marched into Khyber or if it had sent Apache helicopter gunships into Bajaur, the public, and particularly the people of these agencies, would have accused it of unnecessary heavy-handedness.

Instead, the government chose to speak softly, and then swing the big stick it had been fidgeting with. The fact is that even if the peace deals did allow the militants in these areas to regroup, it was worth it for the political capital gained. The argument may seem academic, but democracy is a messy business, and this process was important for Pakistan’s fledgling government.

What should happen next is clear, but certainly not inevitable. Pakistan’s defence secretary, Syed Athar Ali, has claimed that the operation in Malakand division ‘is 90 per cent complete’, which is a foolish boast, one feels, because all it implies is that militants have been pushed out of settled areas into their hideouts in the mountains.

The military is going to have to pursue them there, on their home turf, and attempt to dislodge them permanently. Or else all this: the deaths of over 4,500 militants and soldiers (if Mr Ali is to be believed), the destruction of Mingora and other cities, and, above all, the suffering of the internally displaced people across Pakistan will have been for nothing.

And then? Well, Waziristan. Here’s hoping that our man Zardari has a ‘plan’ for that one, too.

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