Lets dispense justice like its 1999

News that the Pakistani government is likely to allow the authorities in the Swat valley area of Pakistan to set up shari’a courts ought to give us pause.

It’s not that the imposition of shari’a law will automatically mean that human rights will suffer. But, in this region, where – as Amnesty has just reported - the Taleban has recently run rampant and established de facto “courts”, you do have to worry.

Under the influence of the radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah, the Taleban’s so-called courts have had men publicly whipped men for shaving their beards, have destroyed shops for selling music and forcibly prohibited women from leaving their houses unless escorted by a male relative. Sound familiar? Yes – it’s like 1999 and the “ultra pure” Taleban (“the students”) in neighbouring Afghanistan all over again.

(Read more in the Swat Valley: the heaven turned hell blog on how the Taleban “killing machine” is “massacring the people of Swat”).

To be clear, what Islamabad appears to be offering is a form of semi-devolved government that will include shari’a law as part of the administration of justice. This is all supposed to be about preventing the bloodthirsty and aggressively anti-women zealots within the Taleban movement doing it their way.

Setting fire to the house to prevent an inferno…? To my mind it would be a bit like the (very shaky) new Somalian government agreeing to go along with some of the demands of the vicious (and also militarily rampant) al-Shabaab armed group (coincidentally also in the news today over terrorism “recruitment” links to the UK). This, you’ll remember, is the outfit that last year had a 13-year-old girl stoned to death for adultery, prompting a big reaction on our own blog site.

Back in the Swat valley the Pakistani government doesn’t seem to have any kind of coherent strategy. In responding to the challenge of the Taleban, it seems to have either over-reacted with huge, indiscriminate force or, as now, apparently conceded too much.

To be sure, shari’a doesn’t necessarily mean unfair or cruel justice but given the track record of this region (and, to some degree from the Islamabad authorities themselves) you have to fear the worst.

How long, I wonder, before we hear about stonings or other cruel punishments in the Swat valley of Pakistan?

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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