February 13th, 2014
11:05 AM ET

Could Pakistan become a Sharia state?

By Michael Kugelman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. You can follow him @michaelkugelman. The views expressed are his own.

Shireen Mazari is a prominent Pakistani politician who many say is as feisty as she is conservative. In 2011, for example, Pakistan’s Express Tribune reported an incident at an Islamabad restaurant in which Mazari allegedly cursed out a Westerner after his chair bumped into hers. One of the printable portions of the polemic was “Who do you think you are, you bloody CIA agent?”

These days, Mazari is strongly supporting Islamabad’s preliminary peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban (TTP). It’s a little ironic, because if these talks succeed, Mazari may no longer have the same kind of freedom to pick fights at restaurants – or even many freedoms at all. After all, the TTP vows to impose extreme forms of Sharia law throughout Pakistan – just as it once did in Swat, a region it briefly controlled in 2009. Girls’ schools were shuttered or blown up, and women were whipped. The region gained international notoriety when gunmen boarded a bus and shot schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai.

In reality, the current talks will likely go nowhere. The TTP’s demands – which go well beyond Sharia – are hopelessly unrealistic. They reportedly require Pakistan to sever all ties with Washington, and to withdraw all its troops from the tribal belt.

And yet nowhere is precisely where Pakistani officials likely want this to go. If the talks fail, Pakistan’s powerful army – which has little patience for negotiations with those who have killed thousands of its soldiers – would be able to better marshal public support for a rumored offensive in North Waziristan. Islamabad could declare that the failure of diplomacy has given the state no choice but to use force.

Such a pattern has been followed before. The Pakistani military, ever sensitive to public opinion, stormed into Swat in 2009 only after a widely circulated video of a woman getting flogged there shifted public opinion in favor of an operation.

But an offensive in North Waziristan would do little to stop the TTP, whose presence extends across Pakistan and into its major cities. And it’s hard to overstate its clout. It kills soldiers and school kids and politicians and polio workers, yet rarely are there arrests and prosecutions. It taps into the masses’ deepest grievances, from corruption to class inequality (the TTP seized Swat in part by exploiting tensions between landless tenants and their wealthy landlords). It even holds sway over Pakistan’s freewheeling private media. After the TTP killed a number of Express News staff members last month, the television channel put a former TTP spokesman on the air – and Foreign Policy reports the anchor proceeded to promise him coverage if the organization stops killing journalists.

Pakistan has waged military offensives against the TTP in other tribal areas before, but with little success. As the group’s spokesman bragged in a recent Newsweek Pakistan interview: “Another military operation cannot harm the Tehreek-e-Taliban. Our network has only expanded economically, military, and politically.”

So, expect future desperate governments to pursue negotiations anew – and not as mere preludes to offensives. Ominously, in the coming years, talks may well succeed. For all the jokes in Pakistan about the TTP’s unrealistically rigid demands – “the Caliphate Cometh,” blared one local headline – the country could one day become something resembling a Sharia state. In fact, it’s already well on its way.

In recent years, state and society in Pakistan have become increasingly ideologically conservative.  Telecommunications officials routinely ban supposedly “immoral” products and content – from cell phone plans with cheap late-night minutes to gay rights websites. Provincial parliaments have passed resolutions banning concerts in educational institutionsGirls are beaten for not wearing the hijab. Movie theaters are routinely attacked.

Young Pakistanis are especially conservative – quite noteworthy in a nation where two thirds of the population is under 30 and the median age is 21. In a recent poll, more than a third of Pakistani youth supported Sharia-style justice. Pakistani youth appear to defy the adage that young generations are more liberal than their parents, in part because younger Pakistanis started their educations after more hardline Islamist school curriculums were implemented in the late 1970s and 1980s. Many also came of age during Pakistan’s media liberalization in the early 2000s, which sparked the proliferation of conservative – and wildly popular – private televisions channels.

Fundamentalist ideologies are deeply entrenched across Pakistan. Dozens of jihadist organizations – some with alleged links to the Pakistani security establishment – exploit this extremism-rich environment.  So long as such a climate endures (and it will for the foreseeable future), outfits such as the TTP can espouse, if not impose, their dangerous doctrines – from strict Sharia law to violent sectarianism.

For now, all Pakistan can do is try to limit the damage, meaning neither talking to nor fighting militants. Instead, it means arresting, prosecuting, and imprisoning them. One may argue that more robust law enforcement wouldn’t deter defiant terrorists. Perhaps, but one can’t know for sure until such a deterrent is actually attempted. Washington can help by restructuring its civilian assistance program to Pakistan (the current one ends this year) so that it focuses less on infrastructure projects (which are already heavily funded by other external donors) and more on police and legal reform.

Until then, don’t expect the TTP to relent – especially with Mullah Fazlullah in charge. He’s the TTP’s new leader, and the commander who oversaw the group’s brief but brutal rule over Swat in 2009.

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Topics: Pakistan • Terrorism

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soundoff (95 Responses)
  1. Pakistan has always been a mess

    Ever since that sick human named Mohammed Ali Jinnah created the nation of Pakistan, through horrible acts of murder followed by thieving, and all while chanting "Allah O Akbar", Pakistan has been a mess......... no wonder Jinnah's ancestral home was recently blown to smithereens........ and no wonder Pakistan remains wallowing in quicksand.......... they certainly got what they deserved!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 17, 2014 at 5:23 pm | Reply
    • Aijaz

      No wonder, even after 65 years has gone by, the losers are still in pain, get over it.

      February 22, 2014 at 9:41 am | Reply
  2. Anjaan

    Two third of Pakistan's youth prefer sharia ... TTP wants to enforce sharia all across Pakistan ... sharia seems to be the rule of choice in Pakistan in the future ... but why are the western allies of Pakistan worried abut that ... ?? ... as long as Pakistan continues to swear by the transactional relations with its western masters and faithfully do their bidding in exchange of massive military and economic aid, where is the problem ... ??

    February 17, 2014 at 8:18 pm | Reply
    • Peshwar

      Let the Middle Eastern countries alone! No more invasions! Let's respect one another as countries and let and let live! Your choice as a society is yours and yours alone!

      February 19, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Reply
  3. dmf

    The straight answer would be NO . Nevertheless, Pakistan is under serious threat for almost a decade from Taliban terrorists and a few thousand extremists Islamists activists for imposing their preferred Sharia Laws . The Taliban terrorists and extremists Islamist and sympathizers are second and third generation of , the killer force against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1980s created by CIA and Pakistan's ISI . In the aftermath of 9/11 terrorists attacks in New York . The Taliban are against Pakistan's help and support of the U. S. and NATO forces war on terrorism in Afghanistan , and have become enemies of Pakistan , particularly ISI security forces and police . The Taliban terrorists and other killers – criminal elements and those who have taken responsibility of thousands of terrorists attacks at physical infra structures , hospitals , schools , shopping Malls and market places , food courts , churches and , mosques have killed over 60,000 innocent people and 5,000 security forces personnel , the losses are estimated costs over $ 80 billion ? The extremists Islamist political movements are a serious threat not only to governance , but to the very existence and fabric of civil society , law and order , economic growth and development in Pakistan Middle East , North African Arab and South Asian Muslim countries . Contrary to that , silent majority of people , are demanding and advocating for human and civil rights by a secular and democratic elected governance , in Pakistan and many other Muslim countries . A few civil activists movements are engaged , but struggling in a loosing War in Muslim countries . The people need to be educated that the country would survive and prosper only as a secular and democratic states ! Religion has divided their population in several factions . The European countries' history of transformations a long time ago , should help Arab and Muslim countries in their struggle for secularism and democracy . There is an urgent need for recognition and international efforts for investments in national security , combating threats from extremists Islamist , along with Information technology , advances in sciences , medicine , education and culture etc .

    February 17, 2014 at 10:11 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad Farooqui

      you are correct. True

      February 21, 2014 at 7:54 am | Reply
  4. Islam4Fooools

    As Long as Muslims are there , there will be no peace, for peace, destruction of Satanic cult is very important, dead mussie is good mussie. There is no such thing as moderate muslim.

    February 18, 2014 at 6:41 am | Reply
    • stickfigure

      may u burn in hell for all eternity.

      February 22, 2014 at 11:27 am | Reply
  5. Islam4Fooools

    Where is allah now? Hiding? COward? or simply doesnt exists and mohmd made foool out of muslims by creating fake god

    February 18, 2014 at 6:43 am | Reply
    • falak sajjad

      respect others religion so others will respect your religion...i think that you are an uneducated person...

      March 31, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Reply
  6. Pakistan has always been a mess

    When a nation is absolutely and completely lost, that is only when they go grabbing, in desperation, for silly archaic laws from the eleventh century, aka: Sharia Law......... exactly like the Taliban in Afghanistan did in the 1990's, after the Soviets pulled out and left chaos behind. Are you kidding us Pakistan??? Yeah right, take your sick nation even more backwards than it already is, by implementing Sharia Law, where you nutcases will chop off a man's hand when he steals and chop off his d*&k if he screws another man's wife.......... Ha! Ha! Ha! As Bugs Bunny would say: What a bunch of Maroooooooons........... :)

    February 18, 2014 at 12:37 pm | Reply
  7. Pakistan has always been a mess

    Here is a suggestion for "Sharia Law" bound Pakistan...... how about the strictest interpretation of Sharia Law regarding "corruption and bribery", be implemented, which dictates that the criminal in question gets their head chopped off............. so, soon after the amazing Sharia Law is implemented in Pakistan, the entire world is expecting to see ALL the Pakistani politicians, most of the top brass within the Pakistan military and most of the management within the ISI, get their heads chopped off........... right?????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Surely the most corrupt humans in Pakistan need to abide by Sharia Law, or will they figure out some convenient "exceptions" and do not allow the persons implementing the law from getting their heads chopped off?????????? Ha! Ha! Ha! What a sick joke!!!!!! You guys are entertaining the entire planet right now............ :)

    February 18, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Reply
    • Chansa

      You have a point there.I do not think corrupt politicians would want their heads chopped off.I do not also think Sharia law will work out in Pakistan.Never.

      February 25, 2014 at 11:18 am | Reply
  8. Pakistan has always been a mess

    And let's not forget those infamous "Mullahs" that preach about your amazing Sharia Law, but in reality, are some of the most corrupt, screwed up, humans on the planet!!!!!!!!!!!! So what are your going to do Pakistan????????? Some of your Mullahs are known to be screwing around with various women on the "side"........... teaching hate to children............ taking money from rich muslims who have a "hidden" agenda.............. taking bribes from politicians who want to win elections................. oh myyyyyyyyyyy............. what a mess............. even the MULLAHS that preach about Sharia Law need to get their own heads chopped off.......... oh dear!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So are the Mullahs excused from Sharia Law, or are they also going to be forced to abide by their own rules?????????? That's a tough one, my dear Pakistan............ :)

    February 18, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Reply
  9. claire

    Yes, and the sky is falling, too.

    February 19, 2014 at 6:54 am | Reply
  10. Joe

    They are only getting bitten by their own rabid dog and it serves them right for releasing a mad dog in the first place , I have no sympathy for them at all over this.

    February 19, 2014 at 10:44 am | Reply
  11. Atiq

    Pakistan has always THREE governments:

    1) Military/ISI
    2) ELECTED GOVERNMENT
    3) Mafia (Taliban, drug dealers)

    Sometimes one is stronger sometimes the other one

    February 19, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad Farooqui

      SWAT valley is ungoverned land since British rule. It is not going to change and Pakistan has to live with it for very long period if not forever. Russians , Americans had been failure. It was not peaceful land before 9/11.

      February 21, 2014 at 7:47 am | Reply
  12. The West is also getting to be a mess

    If we analyze the comments made by "Pakistan has always been a mess", we can agree with some of the sentiment. Pakistan, being a poorly run third world country has typical "third world" issues, not the least of which are: corruption and bribery, poor infrastructure, hugely dishonest politicians etc. But wait a second....... let's look more closely at what has happened to our "amazing" Western World, lately,............. hmmmmm.............. huge corruption and bribery issues, except they are called "lobbying" issues......... huge issues with corrupt politicians stuffing money into secret Swiss bank accounts, topped off by Mitt Romney having the audacity to stand for election for President, even though we all know about his money laundering scheme thru the Cayman Islands......... and as for those corrupt "Mullahs" in Pakistan, we have our pedophile Catholic priests that are even worse........... so how about we try harder to fix our own nightmare instead of worrying about Pakistan? Maybe we need to revert to the law of the "Bible" and the 10 commandments, just like they are forced to think about their Sharia Law????

    February 19, 2014 at 5:46 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad Farooqui

      True!! This problem in all religions. In India Gandhi was shoot dead by fanatic Hindu who wanted to only Hindu rule in India

      February 21, 2014 at 7:44 am | Reply
  13. 7 billion people on Planet Earth is the issue

    Who cares, East, West, North, South........ no matter which direction we set our binoculars, we see the truth. With 7 billion people on the planet, Mother Nature is sick and tired of trying to sustain so many of us. Maybe it is best that we ignorant human beings use any excuse we can concoct, to set ourselves on fire, and reduce our ridiculous population numbers to less than 3.5 billion, so that Mother Nature can smile again.

    February 19, 2014 at 7:08 pm | Reply
  14. Amit-Atlanta-USA

    Hillary Clinton said it right "YOU CAN'T KEEP SNAKES IN YOUR BACKYARD AND EXPECT TO BITE ONLY YOUR NEIGHBORS!!!"

    Pakistan will NEVER give up using TERROR AS A TOOL OF STATE POLICY,

    and

    Neither, will the TERRORISTS GIVE UP ATTACKING THEIR CREATORS...who include ALL OF PAKISTAN (the people, their Military, the ISI and their Govt)!

    THE TERRORISTS ARE DOING TO PAKISTAN, WHAT PAKISTANIS ARE DOING TO INDIANS!

    Most Indians feel it's JUSTICE SERVED, something that DOCILE INDIA ITSELF IS NOT CAPABLE OF PAYING BACK!

    February 20, 2014 at 12:00 am | Reply
  15. governing chaos is no governing at all

    There is a good reason why Afghanistan and Pakistan share a border. They both are countries where Ineptocracy manifests itself, aka: Government of the fools, by the fools, for the fools.

    February 20, 2014 at 1:36 am | Reply
  16. Roland33

    Any country with a sizeable Muslim population gravitates towards oppressive and backward Sharia law and they adopt many of its rulings,Muslims try to implement it in their life, terrorism is just a result of Muslims wanting to implement an Islamic state.Muhammad the prophet of Islam was the first terrorist if you study his life as recorded in the Islamic traditions.It is kind of like Hitler declaring himself a prophet of God , in fact Mein Kampf translates as My Jihad Even the name Pakistan translates as "Land of the pure" Muslims see themselves as pure & better then non-Muslims.This is why everywhere Islam meets non-Muslims there is conflict.

    February 20, 2014 at 9:05 am | Reply
    • Mohammad Farooqui

      Don't agree first of all: Islam abolished slavery irrespective of white or black not Ebrahim Lincoln general understood, Islam and freed all women who were sold in the market naked like animal by force. Islam calls Jesus Messenger of God and same for Moses have high respect for them. It Great and working religion unfortunately misunderstood by outsiders and most importantly many Orthodox Muslims. Talibans misunderstood fully crux of Islam.

      February 21, 2014 at 7:28 am | Reply
  17. gorillas trying to control the clearing in the forest

    Humans are merely evolved primates. Gorillas always try to control their clearing in the forest. Look at history. The Romans attacked all their neighbors, spread their interpretation of God (Christianity) and controlled the clearing in the forest for some centuries. Then the Muslims, starting from Mecca, attacked all their neighbors, spread their interpretation of God (Islam), and controlled the clearing in the forest for some centuries. Then the Spanish had their turn, followed by the British, except this was a huge clearing in the forest, over half the planet, then the French under Napoleon, and then the Americans, except the motive changed from religion to business interests, then the Germans had their shot at it, with 2 world wars! When are we going to learn to share the forest, value the trees within it, love (and not hate) each other, and truly believe that God and only God owns the clearing in the forest and the entire forest?

    February 20, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Reply
  18. silly arguments about your god versus my god

    And if the major reason for us humans to attack and/or kill each other, is the silly argument over whether your God is more worthy than my God, let's put that ignorance to bed forever. Just imagine a 5 mile wide asteroid comes screaming in, at 45,000 mph, towards Planet Earth, smacks us all square, and turns us into dust, just like it did to the dinosaurs approx 65 million years ago. So who cares whether your God was the only one and true God??? Get it??? These different interpretations of God are merely human attempts to understand that which we cannot understand. Period. The paradox of religion is that it preaches: Thou shallt not kill, and, Love thy neighbor, but it often causes us to do just the opposite! So how about we "get over it" and evolve towards the "united states of the world", where we really use our so-called intelligence, to survive together, in harmony, managing our limited resources more effectively?

    February 20, 2014 at 1:03 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad Farooqui

      Very well said. I fully agree

      February 21, 2014 at 7:16 am | Reply
    • dmf

      The Taliban 's Sharia is against Islam 's teachings and " The paradox of religion is that it preaches: Thou shallt not kill, and, Love thy neighbor," OMK spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban ,after the group took responsibility for killing 23 Pakistani paramilitary soldiers , ( under Taliban custody for over three years near Pakistan – Afghanistan border area ) , noted " We want to make it clear ... that we know how to take revenge . Time March 3, 2014 ." )

      February 22, 2014 at 8:21 pm | Reply
  19. Mohammad Farooqui

    Muslim world is most effected by hardliner and orthodox people. trend in all over the World in all religion where in respect to other cast , creed, faith is vanishing faster than ever. The right way we should respect all faiths. Islamic Sufi approach is medicine for the world in today hate environment. Magic Word " Love all mankind. "

    February 21, 2014 at 6:09 am | Reply
    • East, please don't copy the West

      Thank you Mohammed Farooqui. I think that the King of Bhutan, has an incredibly wise understanding of the world (with some help from Buddhism!), and makes the Scotsman, Adam Smith, look like an ignorant fool. Gross Domestic Happiness is a much more valuable concept, than Gross domestic product. GDP percentage increase just means that we humans produced more garbage material products, which, in turn, created more trash, that we humans then threw into landfills and the ocean, destroying the environment and hurting mother nature! Gross domestic happiness, on the other hand, looks at whether we humans are truly content, with no emphasis on material things, and huge emphasis on how stressed out we are and how calm and serene our environment is! Wow, GDP looks like a joke in comparison to GDH!!!!!!!!! God bless the little nation of Bhutan, for teaching the entire world about how wrong they have been, for so many centuries!!!!!!!!!!

      February 21, 2014 at 4:06 pm | Reply
  20. MazeAndBlue

    It's real simple, the days of corrupt nation building by the USA are over.... Once we let other countries allow their children to be educated in the great USA. They studied hard and figured out what was really the problem. With education, ideological business as usual, geo political views were over. USA must stay out of the middle east turmoils, Arab springs, what ever. The fact is they all hate us and want nothing less than to wipe the USA and Israel off the maps, period. If they want to kill each other, as we did in the civil war let them.. Keep our $$ here and protect our boarders.

    February 22, 2014 at 11:23 am | Reply
  21. an eye for an eye until the whole world is blind

    Fully 30% of the US economy is currently linked, in some way or other, to the military industrial complex. This surely is one of the major causes of war, on this planet. You see guys, all those corporations need to make money, somehow, and if things stay "peaceful" for too long, guess who is going to get rather antsy in their pantsy, and start lobbying for a war to happen, somewhere, somehow, so that they can charge the US government ridiculous amounts of money and continue to stay rich!!!!!!!!! When half the nations on planet earth have some 10-30% of their budget allocated to this "military industrial complex" thing, then we have a global problem, because all it takes is a micro-spark to result in a macro-conflagration, which kills off millions of humans. Yes, an eye for an eye, until the whole world is blind, rings true! And let's not forget the damage to Mother Nature and the environment, when we humans go-a-bombing.......... sickening beyond measure!!!!!!!!

    February 22, 2014 at 1:18 pm | Reply
  22. an eye for an eye until the whole world is blind

    Can any of us imagine, what our entire human existence on planet earth would be like, and how much mother nature would smile, if we could evolve into a species that spent 0.0% (that's zero.point.zero percent!!!!) on this ogre called the "military industrial complex"??? All nations on planet earth would then have trillions upon trillions of dollars to re-allocate towards things that really matter such as: taking care of poverty issues, hunger issues, clean water issues, education issues, disease issues, environmental issues, infra-structure issues, elder-care issues, child-care issues, crime issues, animal extinction issues, energy generation issues........... that's a pretty vital list, don't you think???? So I truly believe that it is all of our collective interests, aka: human interests, for us to evolve towards "the United States of the World"....... this concept will unify all humans on Planet Earth, like nothing else ever could....... imagine, no international borders, no "yours or mine"...... its all "ours"....... and even Space will not get overcrowded with too many satellites from so many countries!!!!!!!!!!! Yes, I am a dreamer.......... but I believe that it is the dreamers that can help us humans to evolve along a wiser path.......... unlike the Hitlers and Bashar Assads of this world, that take us down the path of death and destruction......... :(

    February 22, 2014 at 11:29 pm | Reply
  23. al-kafaji

    I feel disappointed after seeing some of these comments.so much ignorance.dnt judge any religion by the people who following it because most likely there following it wrong.islam is a religion of peace but the media dosent show the people who are following it properly.they only show what they want to 2 ruin the image of the religion and sheep fools like you make the medias job alot easier. The West invades the east for no reason other than oil and to satisfy thier bloodthirsty urges and the muslims in the east are called terrorists for fighting back.so much denial its unbelievable. Pakistan has no police to protect ad there so easily and cheaply bribed.in a situation like that sharia is the only way to protect innocent civilians from evil criminals so good on them if they do implement it.

    July 23, 2014 at 7:35 pm | Reply
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