Shariah in Swat Valley Expected to Worsen Rights Abuse, Says U.S. Group

Shariah law, or Islamic law, officially went into effect in a region in Pakistan this week and will likely result in "egregious" human rights violations, warns a U.S. body in charge of monitoring religious freedom in the world and advising the U.S. government.

Under Taliban-enforced shariah law in North West Frontier Province's (NWFP) Swat Valley, human rights and religious freedom – especially for women and members of religious minorities – are expected to suffer severely, said the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

"The violent, Taliban-associated extremists based in NWFP's Swat Valley consistently demonstrate their disregard for fundamental human rights, and use public beheadings and beatings as a means of enforcing their control," said Felice D. Gaer, USCIRF chair, in a statement.

Gaer calls on the U.S. government to make it clear to the Pakistan government that allowing extremists to control the judiciary system in the strategic area will not bring peace.

The NWFP borders Afghanistan and is known to be a haven for terrorist groups such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Critics of Islamabad's concession to the Taliban warn that the deal will provide terrorist groups the opportunity to strengthen and expand their power, which many fear will eventually lead to more violence.

In recent months, there has been a surge in violence by terrorist groups in the region, especially in Swat Valley, including beheadings, burning girls schools and assaulting security forces.

NWFP government officials had struck the deal with local Muslim leaders closely linked to the Taliban to allow them to be in charge of justice in the Malakand area in exchange for an end to the terrorist groups' extremist activities in the region.

President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan signed the measure that would impose shariah law in Swat Valley on Monday despite opposition from the Obama administration.

"We're disappointed that the [Pakistani] Parliament didn't take into account the legitimate concerns around civil and human rights," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday, according to the New York Times.

USCIRF chair Felice Gaer warns that the deal will likely "embolden" extremists to carry out more "egregious" human rights violations against women and anyone opposed to their "restrictive and arbitrary religious policies."

But a former interior minister of Pakistan, Aftab Ahmad Sherpao, said the government has no choice but to approve the deal because its military has failed to stop terrorist activities in the region as civilian casualties have mounted.

"This agreement was reached not from a position of strength but from a position of weakness," Sherpao told the New York Times.

Christians in the region have already been feeling the pressure from the handover of justice to the Taliban for weeks. Many Christians have moved to other areas or are coping by trying to blend in with the majority by growing a beard or dressing like Muslims.

Making up less than five percent of the population, Christians are mostly poor and less educated because of unfair economic, educational, and social systems that work against them in Pakistan.

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