By Nirupama Subramanian
A chilling video showing the Taliban flogging a young girl reportedly in the Swat district of the North West Frontier Province has jolted Pakistan and raised new fears about a government agreement to set up sharia courts in the region and the dangers it poses for the rest of the country.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary was among the first to react, taking suo motu notice of the video within hours of its hitting the television screens.
Though his court’s influence in Taliban-ruled Swat is in doubt, Mr. Chaudhary sent notices to the Interior secretary, NWFP Chief Secretary and the provincial Inspector-General of police, as well as constituted an eight-judge bench to hear the case from April 6. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the Pakistan People’s Party had always stood for women’s rights, praised the late Benazir Bhutto’s contributions in this sphere, and said an enquiry had been ordered.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said it had to be ascertained if the video was genuine and that he had ordered an investigation to “work out” the place and the date of the incident.
The video shows two men holding the girl face down, one by her legs, and the other by her head. The second man is constantly seen pulling up the girl’s burqa, exposing her salwar-covered backside. The third man flogs her with a cane 37 times.
The girl, said to be 17 years old and identified as Chaand, screams for mercy as she is being caned, first begging to be killed, and then begging her flogger for forgiveness in the name of her father, her grandfather and her grandmother. She is speaking in Pashto. At one point, the bearded black-turbaned man flogging her slaps one of the other men apparently for not effectively preventing her from pulling her burqa down over her back.
Muslim Khan, a spokesman for the Swat Taliban, confirmed the incident and said the girl was rightly punished, and said the girl had illicit relations with her father-in-law. But a rights activist in Swat said the girl’s father had turned down the local Taliban commander’s suit for his daughter. The Taliban had meted out this punishment in revenge.
The Awami National Party, which rules the NWFP and made an agreement in February with the Tehrik-e-Nifas-e-Sharia Mohammadi for setting up sharia courts, took cover under the disputed date of the video.
Those who have distributed it say the flogging was filmed after the agreement. The ANP says it took place in January and was distributed at this time “deliberately to derail the peace deal” in Swat.
TNSM chief Sufi Mohammed also dubbed the video a “conspiracy” to destroy the peace agreement in Swat.