Mar 9, 2009

Life and law

The chief minister of NWFP has signed the 'Nizam-e-Adl' regulation, which will now be forwarded to the governor of the province so that it can be formally enforced in Swat. In the valley, militant leaders have been demanding a swift setting up of 'Qazi' courts promised under the regulation. And already the truce deal is under threat as attacks on security personnel continue.But beyond the immediate issue of the situation in Swat, there is a need to pan out and look at the wider picture. Our country today faces a crisis of integration. The fact that people in different parts live under different laws is a factor in this. In FATA areas, the archaic Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) remains in force. It is unclear what has become of the promise made by the government to review the law, which lays down provision for 'collective' punishment in which even small children are included, amongst other outrageous components. Some of the confusion that exists in Swat is created by the fact that the PATA laws brought in after the region's status as a princely state was ended in the early 1960s were never altered into a mainstream code. Elements of 'Shariah' existed within the PATA laws and the code used previously by the wali of Swat. Elsewhere, we have conflict between an Islamic code and civil laws. The fact that in practice, 'traditional' justice meted out by 'jirgas' in effect controls people's lives adds to the complication we face.We need to create a situation where every citizen can live under a uniform code of law. The multiple dichotomies in the rights and liberties available to people must end. Their existence has created chaos. The sense of national unity and harmony we so badly need is possible only if people are brought closer together, made subject to the same laws and treated as equals who enjoy an access to the same justice. The fact that this has not happened over the past six decades since Pakistan came into being as a nation adds to the problems of cohesion we face today. The recent events in Swat are one manifestation of this. The ushering in of a separate code of law there of course also sets up a dangerous precedent which will only aggravate the difficulties we already face on this front.

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