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Fatwas from Hell

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Ambreen Agha
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

On August 9, 2012, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) urged senior clerics to issue a fatwa (religious edict) against the country’s democratic system and Security Forces (SFs). The letter, sent by TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, also sought to explain why the TTP had rebelled against the state, arguing that the Army was killing “mujahideen” who were fighting for the enforcement of “God’s law” in Pakistan. The TTP also questioned the silence of clerics, when the Government publicly acknowledged that it was a “front-line ally of America and NATO forces”.

Meanwhile, on July 16, 2012, during a protest rally in Jamrud tehsil (revenue unit) of Khyber Agency in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Ibrahim, the Jama’at-e-Islami (JeI) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief, declared, “NATO supply is haram (forbidden) and against the Sharia’h, we will issue a fatwa against it.” However, no subsequent report of such a fatwa is available in the open source.

On July 10, 2012, the Idara Pasban-e-Sharia’h (Centre of the Guardians of the Sharia’h), a TTP offshoot, distributed a pamphlet in the streets and mosques of Miranshah Bazaar in North Waziristan Agency, opposing the reopening of the NATO supply route through Pakistan and declared militant attacks on Pakistan military and Government institutions halal (legitimate). The Urdu pamphlet criticised Pakistan’s military and political leadership for striking a deal with the US and betraying the nation, declaring “The Pakistani Army is with the kafirs (infidels), is from among them, and the Mujahidin’s jihad against it is justified and even mandatory.” 

Islamabad had accepted the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s ‘long pending’ apology for the November 26, 2011, Salala Checkpost incident, in which 24 Pakistani troopers were killed and which led to the closure of the supply routes,  on July 3, 2012, reinstating the NATO supply. This decision was not well received by the Islamists. A massive protest convoy, under the aegis of the Difa-e-Pakistan (Defense of Pakistan Council, DPC) led by the founder of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the Chief of Jama’at-ud-Dawa (JuD) Hafiz Mohammad Saeed on July 7, 2012, moved through the Lahore District of Punjab, voicing the strongest opposition to the resumption of the supply lines. The demonstrators rode on the tops of the buses chanting, “One solution for America, jihad, jihad!”

On July 24, 2012, militants attacked a NATO truck, killing the driver, in Jamrud tehsil of Khyber Agency of FATA. Fearing further attacks, Islamabad temporarily stopped NATO supply trucks crossing its border to Afghanistan via its two supply routes in Khyber Agency and Chaman (Balochistan), on July 26, 2012. Despite rising threats the supplies to US-NATO troops via Khyber Agency were restored on August 4, 2012, while the Chaman route was restored on August 8, 2012.

Unsurprisingly, a marginal Islamist grouping, the Abdullah Azzam Brigade, attacked a NATO container on August 6, 2012, killing the driver in the Tedi Bazaar area of Jamrud tehsil.  Abu Zarar, spokesperson of the outfit, threatened to target Pakistani security personnel in future if they continued to provide security to NATO supplies. A second NATO container was partially damaged in a blast on August 7, 2012, along the Jamrud Bypass road in Jamrud tehsil.

But Islamist extremist fatwas in Pakistan are not restricted to the jihad against the kafirs. In an almost paranoiac act of hatred, a cleric in the Pakistan’s Punjab province, on June 12, 2012, warned that a jihad would be launched against polio vaccination teams, even as the World Health Organisation (WHO) expressed concern at the re-emergence of the disease across the country. In Muzaffargarh District, Maulvi Ibrahim Chisti declared the anti-polio campaign as “un-Islamic” and announced at the local mosque that jihad should be carried out against the polio vaccination team.

Chisti’s was only one in a long chain of fatwas against polio vaccination in Pakistan, which endanger the health of 34 million children under the age of five. The Lancet medical journal claimed that vaccination problems in 2011 led to the highest number of polio cases in a decade in Pakistan, 198, compared to 144 in 2010. In the current year, 23 polio cases had already been recorded by July 20, 2012. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) notes ‘persistent wild polio virus transmission’ is restricted to three groups of districts: Karachi, Districts in Balochistan, Districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA.

Following Chisti’s ‘divine formulation’, TTP ‘commander’ Hafiz Gul Bahadur on June 18, 2012, issued a fatwa denouncing vaccination as an American ploy to sterilise the Muslim community and banned it in the North Waziristan Agency of FATA until the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) stopped its drone strikes in the region. Bahadur’s declaration was a reflection of the consensus reached by the various militant outfits that formed the shura-e-mujahidin, and came two days before health workers had decided to accomplish their target of 161,000 children in the area. A tripartite coalition of tribesmen-mullahs-militants appears to have crystallized against the ‘common enemy’ – the US. Tribal elder Qadir Khan declared, “Polio vaccination will be banned until drone attacks are stopped.” A similar line was reiterated by another tribal elder, “Drone martyrs so many children, while polio afflicts one or two out of hundreds of thousands.”

The TTP-Gul Bahadur faction’s announcement also escalated the controversy surrounding the Pakistani surgeon Doctor Shakeel Afridi, who had been recruited by the CIA to help find slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden under the cover of a polio vaccination programme. On May 23, 2012, he was sentenced to 33 years in prison for “high treason” and conspiracy against the state of Pakistan. Linking the present ban on polio vaccination to CIA’s attempt at espionage, the TTP ordered local doctors to halt the vaccination programme in the Agency. Citing Doctor Shakeel Afridi’s case, Bahadur declared, “There was a strong possibility of spying on mujahidin for the US during the polio vaccination campaign.” The polio vaccination campaign was subsequently stopped in the North and South Waziristan Agencies. Fawad Khan, Director of Health, stated that at least 160,000 children in North Waziristan and 80,000 in North Waziristan would be affected if polio drops were not administered.

The polio drive was hit further by an armed assault on a doctor working for WHO in the Sohrab Goth area of Karachi on July 17, 2012. On July 20, another doctor associated with WHO’s polio prevention campaign was shot dead in Junejo Town at Al-Asif Square in Karachi, disrupting immunisation efforts in and around the city.

Adding to the corpus of fatwas was the edict issued on May 11, 2012, in the Kohistan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), by a former legislator and member of the Jama’at-e-Ulema Islam-Fazlur Rehman (JUI-Fazl), Maulana Abdul Haleem, against secular education and justifying the honour killing of women. Explicitly asserting the notion of male supremacy over women, he pronounced that parents should not promote their daughters’ secular education, declaring that those who send their daughters to school are bound to burn in hell. Worse, in one of the most abrasive pronouncements legitimising acid attacks and violence against women, Haleem announced that any woman using a cell phone would have acid thrown in her face. Acid attacks on women are already at an all time high in the region, with at least 150 women disfigured every year. According to a Rand Corporation commentary, hundreds of women in Pakistan and Afghanistan have been blinded or maimed by acid thrown on their veiled faces by male fanatics who consider them “improperly dressed.” 

A law was enacted in December 2011 establishing tougher penalties for acid attack convictions: from 14 years in jail to life imprisonment, and a fine of up to USD 11,000, a large sum for most Pakistanis. Despite the law there are victims with scarred bodies and faces every week lined up in hospitals across the country. A recent victim of an acid attack was a 10 year old girl, whose face was seared in May 2012 in the Faisalabad District of Punjab.

Haleem also threatened women working in Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) with forcible abduction and marriage to local Kohistani men. Declaring NGOs working in the region as “hubs of immodesty”, Haleem stated:

Some women from these NGOs visit our houses frequently, mobilizing naïve Kohistani women to follow their agenda in the name of health and hygiene education, which is unacceptable to Kohistani culture. Married female NGO workers should go back to their husbands, whereas the unmarried ones will be forcibly wedded to Kohistani men to make them stay at home. If women working in NGOs enter Kohistan, we won't spare them and solemnize their nikah (marriage) with local men.

Endorsing a Hanbalite morality, local imams and tribal courts have issued ‘stoning to death’ fatwas for adultery. In July 2010, the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) was outraged at a “judgment of stoning to death due to illicit relations”, pronounced by a self-styled jirga (council) convened in Kala Dhaka (Torghar District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), on the basis of an allegation that a man and a woman were seen walking together in a field in Madakhail. In another incident, on July 6, 2012, five women were killed by tribal elders for dancing and singing with men at a wedding party in a remote village of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. A tribal council of clerics condemned the women to death for “fornication and staining their families’ names”.

Adhering to a Wahhabite literalist interpretation of the Islamic texts, hardliners prescribe corporal punishments for any failure to comply with their interpretations of Islamic codes of dress and conduct. In an attempt to enforce Sharia’h in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region, Maulana Fazlullah, also known as Mullah Radio, had set up a “parallel government” in Swat and established Sharia’h courts. Fearing the wrath of TTP, a popular Pakistani singer, Ghazala Jawed (24), who fled the Swat District to Peshawar to pursue her career in music, was shot dead on June 18, 2012. Under the banner of Tehreek-e-Nefaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohmmadi, (TNSM, Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Laws) Maulana Fazlullah has issued fatwas against women’s education, women’s voting rights, barber shops and music shops.

Apostatising Shias through fatwas issued by orthodox extremist clergy has hardened the spectre of sectarianism in the country, incarcerating Shias and other minorities within a ‘goblet of fire’. In June 2011, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), the breakaway faction of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), distributed pamphlets calling Shias “wajib-ul-qatl” (obligatory to be killed), and also issued an open letter against the Hazara-Shia community in Quetta. In May 2011, SSP summarised a fatwa that called Shias Kaafir (Infidel). The fatwa was allegedly issued by various ulama from Pakistan and Bangladesh, and was found in a Wahhabi madrassa (religious seminary), Darul Uloom Imdadia, in the Mariabad sub-valley of Quetta.

Backed by provocative decrees of apostasy, the extremists have let loose a reign of terror against Shias and other minorities. According to partial data compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), there have been at least 797 incidents of sectarian violence in Pakistan from January 1, 2005, to August 12, 2012, which have claimed at least 2,250 lives.

State complicity in such religious decrees has been a fact since the 1979 Hudood Ordinances introduced by Presidential decree under the then President General Zia-ul Haq. The laws introduced under the Hudood Ordinances cover the offences of Zina (various forms of unlawful sexual intercourse) Qazf (wrongful accusation of Zina crimes), and offences Against Property and Prohibition. These laws made certain offences punishable by hadd, which is defined as “punishment ordained by the Holy Qur’an or Sunna.”

Current trends in the pronouncement of fatwas legitimize barbarity and provide a religious-legal basis for extreme oppression of women, as well as of minority communities and those regarded as ‘deviants’ by the extremists. Despite some legislative restraints on these extremist decrees, Governments in Pakistan have done little to constrain the fanatics who announce and impose these fatwas and the regimes of terror that back them.

[Source: SATP]

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