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Asia

Analyst: 'Jihadist courts exist all across Pakistan'

Islamist group Jamaatud Dawa has reportedly set up a Shariah court in Pakistan's Lahore city. In a DW interview, Islamism expert Arif Jamal explains why the authorities are reluctant to take action against such courts.

Islamist organization Jamaatud Dawa has reportedly set up a Shariah court in the eastern Pakistan city of Lahore. According to Pakistan's Dawn newspaper, the "court" will dispense "speedy justice," taking up citizens' complaints and issuing verdicts in accordance with the Shariah.

Although similar courts already exist in the tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, this is the first time that Islamists have established a Shariah tribunal in a major city. The authorities have not taken any action so far, though experts say the move is in sheer violation of the Pakistani constitution and law.

In a DW interview, Arif Jamal, an expert on Islamic extremism and an author of books on the militant groups Lashkar-i-Taiba (LeT) and Jamaatud Dawa (JuD), discusses the implications of the move, the people's dissatisfaction with the official judicial system, and the increasing influence of Islamic groups in the country.

Arif Jamal

Arif Jamal: 'The JuD enjoys complete backing from the Pakistani army'

Deutsche Welle: How authentic are the reports that the JuD has set up a Shariah court in Lahore?

Arif Jamal: The reports are quite credible. In fact, the JuD/LeT has established a comprehensive parallel judicial system all across Pakistan. It has been functioning since 1990. It works like an Islamic court is believed to function in a caliphate, awarding punishments for all crimes. The courts hear criminal cases, from petty thefts to murders, and the qazis (judges) give out Islamic punishments. Any appeal against the case goes to the JuD chief Hafiz Saeed, who acts like a caliph.

These Islamic courts have decided thousands of cases in the last 25 years. However, they have not dispensed severe punishments such as cutting of hands and stoning to death. Not yet. However, in some cases, the accused have been flogged in some remote areas.

The reason why the JuD does not award "barbarian punishments" is that it does not want to attract unwanted media attention. In cases of murders, the Islamic courts invariably force the accused to pay diyat (blood money) to the relatives of the murdered instead of awarding qisas (death penalty) to the murderer. These courts do not deal with the rape cases, because the concept of rape is too vague in Islam.

In short, these Shariah courts are a travesty of justice.

Do these courts undermine the country's judicial system?

Yes, because they run parallel to Pakistan's judicial system. The JuD wants to establish the Shariah rule in Pakistan and beyond, and it has created an elaborate judicial system that can replace what the organization considers an 'un-Islamic' judicial system. The Islamic judicial system is also a source of funding for the JuD, as the organization levies huge fines on the people, mostly by using force.

Why has the government not taken any action against these courts yet?

No civilian government has ever taken action against these courts because the JuD/LeT enjoys complete backing from Pakistan's powerful army. The organization can run these Shariah courts just like it is free to undertake other illegal activities in the country.

It is a known fact that such Islamic courts exist in many tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, but it is rare phenomenon in a relatively modern city like Lahore. What does it say about the growing influence of Islamists in Pakistan?

Not many people in the world know about the existence of such courts in Pakistan's major cities because the local media is reluctant to highlight it. The Pakistani military uses its clout in the media to make sure that objectionable activities of their jihadist proxies remain hidden from public. This also shows how entrenched these Islamist groups are in Pakistan's state apparatus and society.

Are there other jihadist groups in Pakistan "dispensing" Islamic justice to common citizens in major cities?

The JuD is not the only Islamist organization that runs an illegal judicial system in the country; most jihadist groups are "dispensing" Islamic justice in accordance with their interpretation of the Shariah. The madrassahs (religious seminaries) are often used as Shariah courts.

Does the "popularity” of the Shariah courts imply that many citizens are dissatisfied with the liberal justice system?

It is partly true that the people are dissatisfied with the country's justice system because the courts take a lot of time in deciding cases, and it is also very expensive to approach them. However, Islamist parties such as the JuD also implement their Islamic justice by using force. Most people choose not to speak against it due to fear. Those who try to resist the JuD and its courts get no support from the police. Several police officers have told me that they cannot stop the JuD from running illegal courts because the military doesn't let them.

Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, founder and head of Pakistan based militant group Lashkar-i-Taiba (Photo: dpa)

The UN has placed sanctions on JuD and its leader Hafiz Saeed

Despite being a banned group, the JuD remains active in Pakistan. Why are the authorities so lenient towards this particular organization?

First of all, the JuD was never banned by the Pakistani state. When the MDI, the JuD's predecessor, was banned in December 2001, it reinvented itself as JuD. Although several of JuD's departments such as the LeT are banned in Pakistan, they operate openly, as they enjoy support from the army. The military will continue to support jihadist organizations as long as it continues to use jihad as an instrument of Pakistan's defense policy.

On the one hand, the Pakistani military has launched an operation against Islamic militants. On the other, the jihadist groups are free to set up their courts. What does it say about the state's anti-terrorism policies?

The Zarb-e-Azb military operation is only against "bad terrorists" who are carrying out attacks on military personnel and army installations. The "good terrorists," whom the army uses as proxies in Afghanistan and India, are not targeted. Also, the military is using the operation as an excuse to act against the mainstream liberal political parties such as the Pakistan People's Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. In reality, through the Zarb-e-Azb operation, the army is witch-hunting politicians. It is also aimed at destabilizing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's civilian government.

Arif Jamal is an independent US-based journalist and author of several books, including "Call For Transnational Jihad: Lashkar-e-Taiba, 1985-2014."

The interview was conducted by Shamil Shams.