PESHAWAR, Nov 14: Just when the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) lawmakers were flashing victory signs over the passage of Hasba bill from the NWFP assembly, barely 40km to the south of Peshawar in Darra Adamkhel, the Taliban were distributing pamphlets, warning tribal elders to behave themselves and threatening schools meant for girls to close down.
The pamphlets were menacing, containing stark warnings to local tribal elders to behave or risk facing a fate similar to that of the 200 or so tribal maliks killed in the restive Waziristan tribal region. Two girls’ schools and a boarding house for female teachers have been closed down. A driver, bringing female teachers to the town situated in the midst of craggy mountains, has received a similar note.
All this is ominously happening in a place at a stone’s throw from Peshawar.
According to analysts, if Talibanisation once seemed affecting some remote regions further south in Tank, Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan, it is now staring us right in the face. Darra Adamkhel, a semi-autonomous region and one of the world’s biggest markets of illicit arms manufacturing, borders Peshawar and falls in the jurisdiction of the NWFP government.
It is scary. Like an epidemic, Talibanisation is spreading and enveloping all the regions, one by one.
So if the lawmakers were all smiles in front of the camera, they had reason to be so. Hasba Bill - the controversial legislation that had encountered stiff resistance, more from the civil society than a seemingly collaborating federal government - was finally able to sail through the NWFP Assembly.
Thanks to the Supreme Court, the bill has lost much of its bite. It is now a toothless and fangless piece of legislation that would be used more as an election gimmick than a substantive law to rein in the unbridled.
It goes without saying that if anywhere in this country, civil society has been able to forestall any legislation that infringed its rights, it was, of all the places, in the North-West Frontier Province.
The new draft that was pushed through the house does not contain any of the controversial clauses that had been struck down by the apex court for being ulra-vires of the constitution. Instead, the legislation, which remains a bill until signed into law by the governor, is an ineffectual document that, according to observers, is a mixture of powers and persuasion.
It empowers the mohtasib to address public complaints against the provincial government. That’s all about it when it comes to enforcing anything under the law. There are 18 other clauses under the mohtasib’s special powers that are persuasive in nature rather than anything substantive.
For example, steps to discourage cruelty towards animals, beggary, child labour, misuse of loudspeakers, artificial price hike, disobedience to parents, honour killing; creating sense of public service among government employees; and ensuring birth and death registration. That’s it.
Perhaps, the only thing this bill seeks to achieve, says one analyst, is to institutionalise the clergy in the NWFP. While the elephant may leave, if one were to use this euphemism for the MMA, it would leave its tail behind as and when the elections are held.
There is little else the MMA has to show for itself. Its performance, even according to some of its sympathisers, has been disappointing. The Hasba bill is being termed an attempt at face-saving and a diversionary tactic to deflect attention from government’s performance. There is nothing ‘Islamic’ about it per se. Nor is there anything about providing cheap justice to the people as the chief minister sought to assure the bewildered populace of the NWFP soon after the passage of the bill.
According to one critic of the government, corruption is rampant and law and order has deteriorated like never before. “Leave aside terrorism, for that is a national phenomenon, there are more kidnappings for ransom on any given day than ever before,” he remarked.
Radicals are holding sway in much of the southern districts of the NWFP. The chief minister’s own uncle was killed by militants; and in Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s native Dera Ismail Khan, armed Taliban raided a wedding ceremony to stop music and held the bridegroom hostage.
But beyond the cosmetic measures of prohibiting liquor, already banned under the law, and playing music in commercial vehicles, again already banned under the motor vehicles ordinance, there is little the MMA has to show for itself when it faces the ballot next time round.
So it will be Hasba, the Hudood laws and incidents like the one in Bajaur that the religious alliance would want to cash in on in the next elections, when the incumbency factor would haunt them hard.
Till now, the MMA has played its card extremely well. It is ruling the NWFP and shares power with the PML in Balochistan. Much to the chagrin of many, it has bailed out the Musharraf-led government on quite a few occasions. It is, therefore, not surprising that many cynics believe the MMA would use Hasba as a quid pro-quo for the Hudood laws.