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Paving righteousness (Rast) and salvation (Nijat)

By Rehan Ali

The road to righteousness (operation rah e raast) and subsequent salvation (rah e nijaat) is laden with gravestones of the sons of the soil. Last April, especially after the peace deal, people were hopeful for a peaceful resolution and prevention of exhaustive military engagement. A video exhibiting harrowing flogging of veiled woman was widely circulated on the digital waves. The matter was picked up by Guardian, BBC, The Hindu and ANI (Indian newswire service). Later, national mainstream media also propagated the heinous treatment of a girl. The media unanimously quoted Samar Minallah, a documentary film maker and anthropologist, who spent two years in Swat region during the 1990s.

Declan Walsh of the Guardian wrote “The Guardian received the video through Samar Minallah, a Pashtun documentary maker and anthropologist who lived in Swat for two years in the late 1990s. It has been passed between Swat residents by mobile phones. Ms Minallah said the punishment had been inflicted within the last 10 days, following the signing of a controversial peace deal under which the provincial government ceded control of the valley’s judicial system to the militants.

Declan Walsh, hinting militant influence to be deepening in Pakistan, describes the video in The Guardian as “The two-minute video, shot using a mobile phone, shows a burka-clad woman face down on the ground. Two men hold her arms and feet while a third, a black turbaned fighter with a flowing beard, whips her repeatedly. ‘Please stop it’, she begs, alternately whimpering or screaming in pain with each blow to the backside. ‘Either kill me or stop it now’. A crowd of men stands by, watching silently. Off camera, a voice issues instructions. ‘Hold her legs tightly’, he says as she squirms and yelps. After 34 lashes the punishment stops and the wailing woman is led into a stone building, trailed by a Kalashnikov-carrying militant”.

Walsh’s narrative was picked up by all the papers except for Dawn, which changed the ending describing it as “The public flogging continued for several minutes, after which the wailing girl is dragged by a group of armed men to a nearby building.” Although, it was clearly visible that the girl took off on her own, shedding dirt of her clothes before hurriedly going into a mud house.

There were clear abnormalities in the video as the girl with heart rendering cries, after receiving 34 hits gets up, sheds dirt off her veil and runs inside a mud house. Sensationalism took over rationale and our media run the 2 minute piece without checking for authenticity. Later there were plenty of hue and cries from the civil society, which took to the streets, condemning the incident and asking severe action against the perpetrators.

Quoting Minallah and other sources, the media reported that the girl was punished on suspicion of having had an illicit relationship with a married man. She did not receive a trial. “The whole case is based on the suspicions of one neighbour,” said Minallah. The woman’s brother is among the men pinning her down, she added. “It’s symbolic that he does it with his own hands. It gives him honour in local society, that he has done it for the sake of religion.”

“This video is being widely circulated because the Taliban want people to see it. They want to give the message that this is taking place after the peace deal because this is something they ideologically believe in,” she was quoted as saying. Minallah said she feared Talibanisation would spread across Pakistan. “I have distributed this video because I feel people are in denial. They don’t want to believe what is happening.”

BBC’s Addul Hai Kakar, jumping on the band wagon and citing relatives of the male victim, reported that “Relatives of the man involved in the incident told the BBC he had gone to the house of the girl in the village of Kala Kalay to do repairs as an electrician, but militants accused him of having a relationship with her. They dragged him from the house and flogged him before punishing the girl, his relatives said. After the incident, the Taleban forced the couple to marry and instructed the man not to divorce his wife. His relatives say he has been left mentally scarred.”

There were condemnation from the governing quarters with Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry ordering police and government officials from the north-western Swat Valley to bring the girl to court the coming week. Both the President and Prime Minister were shocked and asked the local officials to provide complete report of the incident and arrest the perpetrators.

Interior Affairs Adviser Rehman Malik was stated as saying, “We are investigating the matter. But sometimes anti-state elements make fake or artificial footage or images to bring disrepute to Pakistan.” NWFP minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said the surfacing of the video footage was a conspiracy. Speaking at a press conference in Swat, provincial Minister Iftikhar Hussain alleged that an NGO activist, Samar Minallah, had released the video as part of a conspiracy. He said her brother had been a provincial minister in the government of Gen Pervez Musharraf. The minister said the incident was condemnable and should be investigated, but at the same time flashing it several months after its occurrence raised suspicions.

Malakand Division Commissioner Syed Mohammad Javed was quoted by local media as saying that the incident shown in the video clip had not happened in the Swat valley and that the accents of the people heard speaking in the video were not those of the region. “This fabricated video clip is a conspiracy to sabotage the Swat peace deal between the Taliban and the NWFP government,” the commissioner said after his visit to the Kala Kalay village where the incident is alleged to have taken place.

Recent arrests of the central characters of the video revealed that it was staged for a PKR 500,000. During operation in Malakand division, the law-enforcement agencies had arrested the children who were present in the video while a resident of Swat was apprehended by Kohat administration. “The children and the arrested man revealed that the video was ‘fake’ and said that it was made on the demand of Islamabad-based NGO which provided him Rs0.5 million,” it is revealed.

The report also confirmed the arrest of the women who admitted to have accepted PKR 100,000. Citing sources it was further revealed Sources revealed that woman who was flogged in the video was also arrested and she revealed that she had received PKR 100,000 while PKR 50,000 was given to each child. Sources said that the NGO produced the video to defame the country’s integrity and respect.

Exposed! Ms. Minallah reiterated with very bold and highly emotional rants, her recently published article scrutinizes the revelation. “The article does not bear the name of a journalist. It does not specify the name or identity of the ‘Swati man’ who claims to have made the video. It does not give the name of the NGO that supposedly paid the ‘local actors’ for acting in the ‘fake’ video. If all these were paid actors, does that imply that the Taliban leaders who admitted that the incident had happened were paid too?”

Highly charged and emotional she goes on to write “At a time when the entire country was under the threat of militants, I not only brought the attention of the country to this video but also condemned it at the risk of my own life. Much to the disappointment of many ‘professional conspirators’, the video was made by the Taliban and not by me”.

She explains that her role was merely to bring it (video) to public attention. “No NGO made millions by ‘launching’ the video because the video was already on mobile phones and the internet since weeks. The only thing ‘added’ to it was open and clear condemnation from me,” she adds.

However the role of Muslim Khan is also commendable, as he ensured the credibility of the video through his statement “She came out of her house with another guy who was not her husband, so we must punish her. There are boundaries you cannot cross,” quoted by the Guardian.

Public opinion is divided, to some these Talibans’ are home grown barbarians, preaching their backward and extremist interpretation of Islam. Some say they are mercenaries funded by the Indians and Northern Alliance (Afghanistan). Americans gave us enormous aid and weapons and they want us to use them, more damagingly against our own people, is another widely held belief. The conflict was well suited to our American friends, as they saw it a chance to not only engage our military but also make us use our defense inventory.

The conflict has depleted many of our resources and the country has lost a good number of souls – both soldiers and civilians. There is a growing concern at the length of the operation. Rational thinker are advocating dialogue as a means of ending the conflict others. The road to righteousness (operation rah e raast) and subsequent salvation (rah e nijaat) is laden with gravestones of the sons of Pakistan. The lengthening conflict in the backdrop of above debate has baffled many a brains. What is righteousness and if large scale deaths and bombings is righteousness than would there be salvation in this life and the hereafter?

People of the area, the principal loser, never wanted any of this and are weary of this conflict. A simple conversation with any Pashtun, working in the urban Karachi or Lahore, will serve as an insight into the conflict. They all have harrowing tales of war to share real happenings to their kith and kin back in the war zones. However, it’s the liberation front, a group of educated and urbanized brand of thinkers, savvy of western praise and in some cases funding, wants to wipe the area clean. Willing to shed as much blood as necessary provided it is not theirs.

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