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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Asad Munir: A Primer on Swat and Justice Dispensation - Nizam-e-adl: what next for the Taliban?

As for Swat, it is neither a tribal area and nor does it border Afghanistan – so the question arises that why has it become a stronghold of extremists. Being a fertile area it always attracted invaders. Till the 10th century most of the population were followers of Buddhism and were very peaceful and docile people. In the 16th century the Yousafzai tribe captured the valley. The area was divided between various sub-tribes. There was no central system of administration and the tribes resolved their disputes themselves. Except for a few years of central rule, this system continued till 1917, after which different tribes elected a central leader and Swat emerged as an independent state. In 1926, the British accepted the state of Swat and the ruler was offered the title of Wali-e-Swat. He formed his own central administrative system with two types of courts functioning in the State. Courts headed by the religious scholars, known as qazi courts, and judicial courts headed by the area tehsildars. The qazi courts dealt with cases of divorce, inheritance and some other minor cases involving Sharia while all other disputes were referred to the tehsildar court. The appellate forum was that of a hakim, and a final appeal could be made to the wali. All this process took only one month. In those times the social problems were also not very complex so generally, the population was getting free and speedy justice.

Dir and Bajaur were annexed by Pakistan in 1960 while Swat was merged in Pakistan in 1969. In 1975, these former independent states were declared as Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA). These areas were then conferred the status of districts which meant that they also got district administration and police force. The judicial system, however, was based on jirgas and the executive authority of district magistrates. In 1992, on a petition of lawyers, the PATA regulations were abolished by the courts. However, surprisingly no alternative system was put as a replacement and this created a judicial void which created unrest in the general public.


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