Pakistan’s residents who once criticized the slow and corrupt state courts now fear the “Talibanization” of Islamic sharia law that is making inroads.
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, May 10, 2009
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, May 9 — When black-turbaned Taliban fighters demanded in January that Islamic sharia law be imposed in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, few alarm bells went off in this Muslim nation of about 170 million.
Sharia, after all, is the legal framework that guides the lives of all Muslims.
Officials said people in Swat were fed up with the slow and corrupt state courts, scholars said the sharia system would bring swift justice, and commentators said critics in the West had no right to interfere.
Today, with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Swat and Pakistani troops launching an offensive to drive out the Taliban forces, the pendulum of public opinion has swung dramatically. The threat of “Talibanization” is being denounced in Parliament and on opinion pages, and the original defenders of an agreement that authorized sharia in Swat are in sheepish retreat.
The refugees are the “victims of ignorant cavemen masquerading as fighters of Islam,” columnist Shafqat Mahmood charged in the News International newspaper Friday. He said that the “barbarian horde” that invaded Swat never intended to implement a sharia-based judicial system and that they just used it as cover. “This is a fight for power, not Islam,” he wrote.
Such widely expressed views make a clear and careful distinction between the Taliban version of Islam — often described as narrow-minded, intolerant and punitive — and what might be called the mainstream Pakistani version of Islam, which is generally described as moderate and flexible.