Outrage over Taliban flogging of Pakistani girl could threaten peace deal
A video of a girl being lashed 34 times for allegedly being seen with a man who was not her husband has prompted a chorus of condemnations led by President Asif Ali Zardari.
The public flogging of a 17-year-old girl in Pakistan's Swat Valley sparked a wave of protests across the country this weekend, but local residents fear the backlash may jeopardize a precarious peace deal between the Pakistani government and militants in the troubled region.Skip to next paragraph
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A grainy video depicting a girl being pinned down by three men and lashed 34 times – Islamic law punishment for allegedly being seen with a man who was not her husband – was released on private Pakistani television channels on Friday night prompting a chorus of condemnations led by President Asif Ali Zardari, who has ordered an inquiry into the incident.
"[We] have a responsibility to stand for our people if they are being subjected to atrocities by elements that are not recognized by the state as legitimate actors. Ignoring such acts of violence amounts to sanctioning impunity," says Sherry Rehman, a member of parliament from the ruling Pakistan People's Party, who was information Minister at the time the Swat Valley peace deal allowing Islamic law was signed in February. She adds that the government may be forced to review its position with regard to the peace deal in the face of growing condemnation.
In Swat's main town of Mingora, however, anger is overridden by a practical desire to maintain good relations with the Taliban whom residents say are in de- facto control of the region. The consensus is that the video, which was shot with a cellphone camera, took place in January – before the peace accord – and that the Taliban has done nothing as controversial since that time.
"There are no words strong enough to condemn the incident," says Ahmad Shah, principal of a local private school. "But the question is why now? Where was the outcry from [nongovernmental organizations] and the media when hundreds of people were being executed before the peace deal? Where were the countrywide strikes then? The situation is now on the right track. Let's give an opportunity to the peace process."
The government lacks the ability to arrest Taliban militants, even if it wished to, he adds.
"Killers are no longer roaming the streets, there are no longer public hangings," adds Sardar Ali, a clothing shop owner. "During the fighting there was chaos, now things are much better."
The February peace deal
On Feb. 16, a cease-fire was declared between the Pakistan Army and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), led by Maulana Fazlullah. It came after three years of sporadic fighting that left 1,200 people killed, at least 250,000 displaced, and saw the destruction of more than 200 (mainly girls') schools. As part of the deal, the government agreed to allow the region to be governed by Islamic law, or "Nizam-i-adl," which was a key demand voiced by Mr. Fazlullah's father-in-law, Sufi Mohammed, who leads the movement's political wing.
Almost two months later, the streets and bazaars of Mingora have returned to some semblance of normalcy. Shopkeepers say business is back up again, gaggles of school girls covered from head-to-toe in black burqas can be seen making their way through town, and a few dozen police constables direct traffic in the former tourist hot spot. Taliban fighters are instantly recognizable, too, by the Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders and their fresh white sneakers with socks tucked over their baggy pants.
The district coordination officer, Khushal Khan, points to a relatively low crime-rate – "one-odd murder here, one abduction there" in the district since peace was restored – as evidence of a return to order. He adds that the government has now undertaken a number of steps to restore public confidence.