Shariah Zone: One Solution for Pakistan?

I. A. Rehman is a leading human rights advocate, a prominent art critic, and a well-known columnist. He is also a founding member of the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy, and a councilmember of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

A girl peeks out from behind a veil - AP photo.

A girl peeks out from behind a veil - AP photo.

I.A. Rehman speculates on the challenges which face this country in future years as part of’s launch special ‘Flash Forward Pakistan: where do we go from here?’

The civil war underway in the tribal areas and a large part of the Frontier province, including Swat, presents the biggest challenge Pakistan has ever faced. At stake is not only the integrity of the state but also the nature of its polity. The odds are heavily stacked against Pakistan’s survival as a democracy.

This grave situation has been created by a combination of several factors. The authors of the Pakistan demand may not have wanted to establish a religious state, but their argument was derived wholly from the religious identity of the population of the designated territory. Soon after the new state came into being, enforcement of Shariah rule was demanded. This demand has never been opposed. Instead, the state has been yielding to the clerics throughout its 61 years.

Between 1949, when the Objectives Resolution was adopted, and 1979, when the Federal Shariat Court was established with powers to strike down any law considered to be repugnant to Islamic injunctions, Pakistan repeatedly affirmed its constitutional obligation to enforce the Shariah.

In addition, the armed forces were indoctrinated in a religious context as General Ziaul Haq’s rule to reserve senior posts for genuine Islamists remained in force for a decade. These historical precedents are enough to convince a militant in Swat that he is only asking the state to honour its constitutional pledge.

On another point, the state chose to avoid integrating the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) with the rest of the country. In 1994, when a movement for enforcing Shariah in place of the archaic Frontier Crimes Regulation began in PATA, the government obliged by setting up Qazi courts. This did not satisfy the clerics and they were accommodated further in 1999. Dissatisfied again, the agitators decided that instead of asking the state to enforce the Shariah, they would do the job themselves.

Meanwhile, world powers failed to ensure the establishment of a government of national unity in Afghanistan after the fall of the Najibullah regime. The vacuum was filled by religions militants who had been trained, among other things, to carry out terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings. Thus, over the last few years, a vast territory comprising Afghanistan, FATA, and the former PATA districts, has become a theatre of a war. US and Nato forces are fighting the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan and the Pakistan Army is battling with the tribal militants, the self-styled Pakistani Taliban.

As things stand, the US’s ability to win the new Afghan war in coming years seems doubtful. Neither the US nor Nato has an exit strategy. Only two possibilities emerge: either the messy war will continue for another decade, or the Taliban will be brought into the ruling coalition which they will eventually dominate. In either case, Pakistan will be buffeted by almost irresistible storms.

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