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“Girls Cricket Championship 2009” held at Sindh University on Jan. 24

Creeping Talibanization in Pakistan’s ‘Paradise’ Valley

By RAHIL YASIN

FRACTURED PAKISTAN — Cricket matches take place during the “Inter-varsity Girls Cricket Championship 2009″ held at Sindh University on Jan. 24. But hundreds of miles northwest at the foothills of the Himalayas, where the Taliban rule, female teachers stay at home, while lands are barren and trees grow fruitless, and video shops are torched, and barbers are afraid to shave beards.

LAHORE, Pakistan — People in Swat – once called the ‘paradise’ on earth or Switzerland of Pakistan – are living in tense times. The Pakistani Taliban have stoked fear in parts of the valley, and their control is growing. They gave demolished schools and bombed bridges;

political workers are assassinated, journalists are tortured, girls are forbidden from going to school. Even dead bodies have been exhumed from their graves and put on gallows. The power of the government has shrunk to a limited area in the district.

Lands are getting barren and trees are growing fruitless. Female teachers are forced to live in their houses, video shops are burnt and barbers are warned against shaving beards because the Taliban see this act as un-Islamic. In the last two years, more than 800 hotels and 405 restaurants have been closed in the picturesque Swat Valley – one of Pakistan’s main tourist hubs for decades and a major source of foreign revenue – as law and order deteriorates.

Around 40,000 people connected with the valley’s hotel industry are unemployed, as are thousands of others who are indirectly linked to the industry. Militancy, which has disrupted every walk of life in the picturesque Swat Valley, has dealt a massive blow to its once fabulous tourism industry that once enchanted tourists from around

the world.

The population of Swat district was 1.5 million, but two-thirds have migrated to other areas of the country. More than 200 people, including important personalities, had been killed in targeted killings and bomb blasts in Swat.

But Islam teaches us to show care and compassion, even toward the plants and animals. To inflict destruction, harm or injury toward them is deemed as a major sin, so how can anyone under any circumstances justify the killing or maiming of innocent human beings?

Besides banning female education in Swat Valley, the militants have torched or completely destroyed more than 165 girls’ and boys’ schools and colleges thereby stopping students from taking their annual examinations.

In Pakistan, literacy figures for women had risen steadily since the 1990s. In the Swat area they were up 75 percent over 2002, with 30,000 more girls in schools. Foreign donors helped establish NGO-run schools, pushing up enrollment levels.

The recent resurgence in militant extremism has come as a bitter blow indeed.

Current circumstances condemn millions of children, particularly girls, to a life without education — and, therefore, to a life of missed opportunities. Many girls say their parents are too afraid to send them to school. An estimated 80,000 girls have had their education cut. They are trying to keep up with their studies at home.

But it is hard.

Traditional Islam views religion as a pact between man and God and therefore in the domain of spirituality. In this belief, there can be no compulsion or force used in religion. From the time of the Prophet Mohammed, peace and tolerance were practiced between different religious groups, with respect to distinctions in belief.

Contrary to this, the Wahhabi ideology, which the Taliban follow, is built on the concept of political enforcement of religious beliefs, thus permitting no differences in faith whatsoever. In Wahhabi belief, faith is not necessarily an option; it is sometimes mandated by force.

Similarly, extending the sphere of their activities aimed at enforcing Sharia, the followers of Fazalullah, a Taliban leader in the Swat region, are making a state within a state in the valley. He has established his own administration on the pattern of the Saudi monarchs and created a private army, equipped with the latest weapons

and controlled by his trusted and loyal commanders. Besides establishing a parallel judicial system, Fazalullah has also established a “baitul maal” (fund for the needy) for which his commanders collect “ushr” (tithes) from the locals.

The Pakistani government should provide protection and alternative institutions and mechanism to the students of Swat besides establishing relief camps and financial support to the affected people. The government and the army should place security in front of all the girls’ schools and colleges as soon as possible. The government must not surrender to the threats of extremists groups who

are exploiting the laws in the name of religion. Peace pacts with militants remain a tradition from the early history of Islam and always produced good results. So far, peace agreements with the Taliban in Swat should be given a go-ahead, with the hope that girls will return back to their schools in the ‘paradise.’

COURTESY: MIDDLE EAST TIMES

January 26, 2009