The Pakistani government has approved the controversial bill that will allow for the implementation of sharia, or Islamic law, into a large region of northwestern Pakistan.
President Asif Ali Zardari signed the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation into law today after a majority of the Pakistani Parliament passed the bill. The regulation allows for the establishment of sharia courts in the Malakand Division, an administrative region that encompasses more than one-third of the Northwest Frontier Province and includes the districts of Malakand, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, Chitral, and Kohistan.
The sharia law was referred to the Pakistani government after the government negotiated an agreement known as the Malakand Accord with the Taliban in Swat. The agreement calls for the withdrawal of the Pakistani Army from Swat, the release all Taliban prisoners, the withdrawal of any criminal cases against Taliban leaders and fighters, and the imposition of sharia. The government agreed to the terms of the Malakand Accord after the military suffered its third defeat against the Swat Taliban in two years.
The Taliban had threatened to renew the violence in Swat if the sharia law was not signed by President Zardari. Amir Izzat, a spokesman for the pro-Taliban Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammed [TNSM or the Movement for the Enforcement of Mohammed’s Law] threatened to declare any member of parliament as a non-Muslim if they voted against the law. Sufi Mohammed, the leader of the TNSM, which serves as a front for the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan, walked out on the peace agreement after bashing Zardari for not signing the sharia regulation into law.
President Zardari had said he refused to sign the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation into law until the security in Swat was restored. As recently as April 9, Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, said President Zardari would not sign the regulation into law.
“The president of Pakistan has not signed the agreement and not approved the agreement yet because he’s waiting for the TNSM to fulfill its end of the bargain, which was, essentially, to make sure that the Taliban – whose leader happens to be his son-in-law – they do not continue to use force,” Haqqani told a forum in Washington, according to The Washington Independent. “Since that has not happened, the agreement has not been enforced.”
But the Taliban have repeatedly violated the ceasefire in Swat. Taliban forces have attacked military convoys and captured soldiers and government officials. Most recently, on April 11, a Taliban force wounded three security personnel after ambushing a convoy in Swat. Meanwhile, the Swat Taliban have advanced on neighboring Buner and are now in full control of the district, which is just 60 miles from the capital of Islamabad.
The Malakand Accord and the subsequent signing of the sharia law have emboldened the Taliban and the multitude of Islamist groups in Pakistan. Islamist political parties are now calling for the imposition of sharia throughout the country.