Feb 28, 2009

The price of justice

EVERYONE wants justice in Pakistan including the deposed chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, the lawyers, Mukhtaran Mai and ordinary people.
However, the only group that eventually got the government to agree to implement a system of justice they wanted — and popularly called the nizam-i-adl — is the Swati Taliban. So, the moral of our story is that justice will be granted to the most brutal bidder.
The rule of thumb now is that political space will only be created with the help of guns. We might also see Islamabad concede to the demands of the Baloch nationalists, especially the Baloch Liberation Army. The timing of the peace agreement is interesting as it came right before Islamabad’s crackdown on its political rivals in Punjab. It was almost as if one front had to be silenced so that the other could be activated.
The Swat peace deal is being rationalised on the basis that this is what the people in Swat want. No doubt, the people of Swat want peace. It is not easy to survive the onslaught of the Taliban or the bombardment by military forces.
However, it is interesting that the government seems to lump the innocent Swati people’s demand for peace with a desire for the new legal system that was once demanded by Sufi Mohammad and now by Fazlullah. The people of Swat would be equally happy and satisfied with an arrangement where the government tried to implement its writ without making deals with murderers. This is not a popularity contest in Swat as some sections of the media would have us believe. People are bound to accept a legal system negotiated by those who use violence as a tool when the government is absent and unable to impose its writ on everyone.
Forget about the political government, even the military is not willing to challenge this violent group. Reportedly, instead of jamming Fazlullah’s radio the army now has plans to start a counter programme. This means that they will allow Maulana Radio the space to air his views and just try to challenge his ideas, which, in turn, means legitimising his propaganda.
Again, it is not odd for people to want a system of justice that can be delivered in the minimum time and at the minimum cost. But then, the demand for the Sharia and timely and cost-effective justice are two separate things. It is no secret that people all over the country want improvement in the judicial system that has completely collapsed due to official intervention and rampant corruption in the judiciary. The problem of affordable justice not being found across the length and breadth of Pakistan exists not because of the specific type of law but due to the fact that the more powerful and affluent do not allow institutions to function.
Why should one expect that it would begin to work in Swat just because of an agreement between the Swati jihadis and the provincial government? If the same judges become qazis, as the provincial chief minister would have us believe, then what would stop them from extorting money from ordinary people? There will possibly be greater extortion because now people would pay to avoid their hands or heads being chopped off.
And what about Fazlullah and his men who have spilt a lot of innocent blood? Will the system of justice apply to them as well? Maybe not because Fazlullah did not get into an agreement to be tried and hanged by a court of law. And we can’t forget that the one force that would ensure that the qazis work and deliver justice is Fazlullah who would see to it that any qazi who deviating from his duty was killed the same way as journalist Musa Khankhel. Interestingly, the NWFP chief minister tells us that de-weaponisation by the Fazlullah gang is a minor procedural issue which will be resolved after peace is restored and life returns to normalcy in Swat. No details are offered about the agreement not even on the issue of who will define the Sharia and make sure that it is implemented in letter and spirit.
What credibility do we attach to the guarantors who would have to ensure that the agreement works and does not collapse? Is Sufi Mohammad, a man who led thousands of innocent young men to their death in Afghanistan during the 1990s, credible in this regard? Some have suggested that the answer lies in limiting the jihadis to enclaves and slowly implementing the writ of the state, firstly through the system of qazi courts and then by bringing in police stations and other law and order agencies to carry out the sentences of these courts. But then we are assuming that Fazlullah and his gang will have nothing to do with defining the system of governance. Sufi Mohammad has already stated that he considers democracy to be anti-Islam and Fazlullah has said that peace will only depend on the army withdrawing from Swat.
Those who support the above strategy might have been inspired by the results in Sri Lanka where the once powerful LTTE has finally been cornered and almost eliminated. But the success of the Sri Lankan government and the military’s strategy have depended on a combination of factors such as the flaws in LTTE’s planning, a consensus within all segments of government that the LTTE has to be suppressed and the building of a sound strategy that has ensured inter-services coordination amongst the three services of the armed forces.
The primary flaw in the LTTE’s plans was the desire to mould political credibility through taking recourse in negotiations with the involvement of the international community rather than just depending on the use of force. So, there were many occasions when it had to scale down its attacks on Colombo. Unfortunately, Fazlullah has no such plans. He is certainly not amenable to international players and does not desire to transform his force into a political one unless his handlers want him to do so. Obviously, the other option is to let the proclaimed agreement drag on until the snows thaw and Fazlullah and his forces regroup for another long battle.
What is most amazing at this stage, however, is how critical segments of society are willing to forget about hundreds of wasted innocent lives to sell an illusory peace.
By Ayesha Siddiqa The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.

No comments:

Post a Comment