Taliban test case pakistan: more flogging and stoning?

Video of public flogging of woman leads to new exaltation of Taliban’s understanding of law

The exact circumstances are not yet known. But the video that began circulating on news channels yesterday, showing a woman being publicly whipped by a bearded turbantrager, sends an unalterable, absolute message: "Law and order will be enforced here, relentlessly and as it always has been."

According to Western media, for example the New York Times or the British Guardian, the public humiliation and brute punishment happens to a 17-year-old girl who is held down on the floor by two men. She cries and screams. In Pakistan, the video was seen on private television channels and unleashed a wave of outrage. The scandal that the pictures draw is taken seriously.

The political leadership, President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani, were quick to react, expressing shock, condemning the archaic punishment, wanting to bring the culprits to the cadi themselves and demanding a thorough investigation of the case. Meanwhile, the hopes of rule-of-law and civil-minded forces in Pakistan rest on Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who was reinstated in March due to heavy prere, and who has also intervened, directing "top police officers" and government officials of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) to bring the girl to the capital to be heard in court.

It will be interesting to see if this happens. Investigators should search in Swat Valley. This is where the public flogging, probably filmed on a cell phone, is said to have taken place, in a remote corner of the marchen-like valley, which since February has been regarded by the worldwide public as the new front of the dark country. Taliban representatives, which was based on a mutual cease-fire on the permitted establishment of Sharia courts (see Pakistan introduces Sharia law in border region). The deal caused rude fears in the West and in Pakistan that it sent the completely wrong signal and paved the way for militant, extreme Islamism, especially the Taliban, instead of stopping it (see A State on the Brink of Collapse).

The video of the flogging of a young woman in a scenario that immediately brings to mind execution by a Sharia court goes right to the heart of political discussions about how to deal with the Taliban – not only in Pakistan. Although it is completely unclear when the video was made, whether before or after the Swat appeal deal, for what reason the girl was mistreated, who were the backers for this primitive punitive practice, is certain: The video is considered proof of the Taliban’s hardness.

Remarkably, this is an argument for both sides. For those who warn of the triumph of Islamists and extremists, which will generate more such barbarities – if the government continues on its all too soft course and accommodates them, as in Swat, to the point of recklessly handing over administration and jurisdiction to Islamists, and with it the rule over the weal and woe of the inhabitants.

And also as an argument for the Taliban, who once again document that they take the Islamic order and its centuries-old penal code seriously, right down to the individual letter. So the spokesman, and according to the Guardian also "key commander", of the Tehreek-e-Taliban in Swat, Muslim Khan, also finds fault with the flogging of the girl only in its formality, that it took place openly and that the flogger was too old. The punishment itself could have been more severe, he is quoted as saying by a Pakistani newspaper. According to his information, the woman had been punished for illicit relations. Had the Qazi, the judge had been present, the girl would have been stoned to death. Muslim Khan also believes that Swat should be pars pro toto for the whole of Pakistan:

Swat is a test case. After that the Sharia should be valid and ruling law in whole Pakistan? How can we have British legislation here? (Pakistan’s legal system combines both Islamic and Western elements, builds on earlier British Indian law based on British common law, Anm.d.V.) It is the task of the Taliban that the state agrees to Sharia law. It is our right, 95% of the population are Muslims.

In recent days, the Taliban in Afghanistan have been heard to be open to concessions in negotiations with Karzai, implying a less harsh approach (see Taliban no longer want to beat up cab drivers) . Soon after, however, it was learned that the Afghan president, for his part, had made remarkable concessions to the Taliban, allowing, for example, marriage contracts that dictate how often the woman must be sexually available to the man.