If things can get better, why not Shariah?”

hardtalk: “If things can get better, why not Shariah?”
— Ameer Haider Hoti, CM Designate NWFP

* We will take the local population on board
* Decisions taken in Peshawar may not be acceptable in Swat
* No one can dictate to the state
* Our priority is dialogue
* We cannot respond to violence with violence
* Government will protect its citizens

Speaking exclusively to Daily Times Peshawar Bureau Chief Iqbal Khattak, Chief Minister-designate NWFP Ameer Haider Hoti stated that the coalition government of the secular Pashtun nationalist ANP and the PPP will not hesitate to back the enforcement of Islamic law in Swat district, which has been plagued by extremism, if peace can be established.

Following are excerpts from the interview.

Daily Times: Your government will be confronted with serious challenges — militancy, deteriorating law and order and continued unrest in Swat. How are you going to solve these problems?

Ameer Haider Hoti: Law and order will be a challenge for my government. And it would have been a challenge for any other government too. But we have to deal with it. How we should deal it is another question. But we have set priorities for ourselves. My party’s and my government’s priority is [to] resolve the militancy problem through dialogue. We have to give way for dialogue. We will involve local elders, elected representatives and ulema, and will move forward [with] their help to establish peace.

DT: Decisions taken in the 1990s did not help the Swat situation. Previous governments enforced Islamic laws but it did not help bring the situation under control. Yet the caretaker government sent a draft to amend the Nizam-e Adal law for its enforcement again.

AHH: Now the new government has to play a role after the people have mandated it in February 18 elections. As for a change, we will take [the] local population on board before we make any changes in the administrative system. If we make decisions while sitting in Peshawar, they may not be acceptable for the people over there. The best course will be [to] take the local population into confidence before taking any decision on the governance system in their district.

DT: You want to review the draft law and make changes before implementation?

AHH: First, we want to read the amendments being proposed. We want to know what the amendments are. I just know [that] amendments were suggested but I do not know details and modalities. We would like to see it and then will discuss it with the people of Swat. If the amendments are okay and meet all the requirements and local elders and ulema have no objection then anyone who is doing a good job must be allowed to complete the mission. We will implement it if there are no flaws in the law.

DT: Do you, and your secular party, feel that enforcement of Shariah is the best solution for the people of Swat?

AHH: Look, [whether] it is enforcement of Shariah or any other way out, we have to understand the problem first. After we [have] understood the problem, we have to find a way out. If the local population is satisfied with enforcement of Shariah and situation returns to normalcy we have no objection. But as far as the government’s writ is concerned that should not be allowed to be weakened. But first let the government be formed and then let us sit with them [the militants] to know what their requirements are and how fare we can go to meet those requirements. We will do all this after we know the opinion of all stakeholders.

DT: Meaning you are mentally ready to sanction the enforcement of Shariah if you feel that is the best way out?

AHH: If things can get better, why not? We are ready to do everything for improving security situation there.

DT: But the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has been critical of the caretaker government’s move. Afrasiab Khattak, when he was head of HRCP, said that agreeing to a cleric’s demand was ‘capitulation’. Will it not damage the ANP’s secular credentials if your government follows in the footsteps of previous governments?

AHH: The problem is very complicated. We are not living in a normal situation. If it violates basic human rights one can stand up to oppose it. But whatever changes are being suggested in Nizam-e Adal law, they are of quite diluted form. It will not be the extreme form which you are apprehensive about. We will take all onboard. We are not enforcing it tomorrow. We would see how far the government can go and that its enforcement does not lead us to more problems. We will look into our own [issues] and the people’s difficulties before we enforce Shariah. But we need to balance our act. We cannot respond to violence with violence. And we hope the other side will also avoid violence. Our priority is dialogue. When dialogue starts then we will know what demands the other side put forward. They just want Qazi courts or something more.

DT: Maulana Fazlullah says he has one demand — enforcement of Islamic law. If this demand is met and the government ‘capitulates’, what of the state’s writ?

AHH: No one can dictate to the state. We request [that] no pre-condition should be set before dialogue. They should come and talk and let us know what they want. Their genuine demands will be met. But if one sets pre-conditions, then it will not work. Our message for them is: let’s begin talks. And I hope they will respond to my message positively.

DT: If the militants do not agree to dialogue...

AHH: If someone does not want to go the peaceful way and he takes our peace message non-seriously then it is the government’s duty to protect the lives and properties of its people. In such a situation, the government will do what it has to.

DT: In the current situation, do we have to go for compromise?

AHH: One has to...if you do not compromise, how will you reach a settlement? Both sides have to move forward from their respective positions to reach a peaceful settlement. I think both sides have to make compromises over their positions to some extent.

DT: The NWFP lacks the resources to comprehensively face up to some serious challenges. Would you be willing to accept help from the international community?

AHH: Why not? If somebody is ready to help us, he is more than welcome.

DT: You want to tackle militancy that has spread from the tribal areas. Will you be working with Islamabad to help eliminate the militancy in FATA?

AHH: We are ready to help...but first we should be let in (the tribal areas). We are ready to help the federal government to any extent.*

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