ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistani authorities ordered inquiries Friday into a video showing the public flogging of a screaming woman in a northwestern valley where officials have yielded to Taliban demands for Islamic law.
A militant spokesman defended the punishment, fueling a furor that cast more doubt on a creaking peace deal in the Swat valley that U.S. officials fear has created another haven for allies of al-Qaida.
Officials vowed to impose Islamic law, or Shariah, in Swat in February to halt 18 months of terror and bloody fighting between militants and security forces that killed hundreds of people.
Shariah has not yet formally been introduced and provincial officials say that, in any case, they would not condone such whippings or the harsh brand of Islamic law practiced under Afghanistan’s former Taliban rule. But the video provided a reminder of how hard-liners in control of much of the valley interpret Islamic strictures.
The embattled government of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province struck the deal with a hard-line cleric who helped secure a cease-fire. However, President Asif Ali Zardari’s office says he won’t sign the bill introducing Islamic law there unless he is satisfied that peace has been restored – a prospect that seemed to recede Friday after a sharp outcry by rights groups.
“It is not a peace accord in Swat, instead it is a surrender by the government of Pakistan,” said Asma Jehangir, head of Pakistan’s main human rights organization. The flogging “is against all the women of Pakistan.”
Muslim Khan, spokesman for the Swat Taliban, said the militants publicly flogged a woman nine months ago over allegations that she had an illicit relationship with her father-in-law, but he was not sure if the video showed that incident.
He defended the punishment, although he said it should not have been done in public and should have been carried out by a boy who had not yet reached puberty.