In Pakistan's North West Frontier pressure is increasing as the Taliban impose Sharia Law in vast tracts of the province. The latest area to fall is the beautiful district of Hangu, in the middle of the NWF.
The announcement to 'go Sharia' is usually made at a mosque, by decree, at Friday prayers. The decision is typically represented as being 'by the express wishes of the people' but the reality is Sharia is imposed by those who have the power and the weapons to tell people how they will live.
The Taliban imposed Sharia that is beginning to blast it's way through the largely Pashtu North West Frontier is the exactly the same as the Sharia which repulsed the West in Afghanistan during the 1990s. Women are banned from being seen publically, except for emergency visits to doctors (if a female medico is available). A senior male member of her family must chaperone her. And of course, she must be in complete hijab.
In many districts girls have not been able to go to school for many months and anyone educating girls faces "dire consequences" - the schools being torched or blown up, or the school girls attacked (reference the recent Taliban acid attack on young school girls across the border in Afghanistan), and the teachers killed.
"All the private and government schools have been given a 15-day deadline to close down the female education facilities," a schoolteacher and social worker told the Times of India on January 3. "We have no choice but to follow the orders. The government cannot give us protection. Taliban runs a parallel government in 90 per cent of the area of the district and they execute everyone who opposes them."
In the past four years, the Taliban has destroyed over 250 schools in the North West Frontier Province.
The sad reality is that other aspects of Sharia law may be greeted with more dismay and resistance in this traditional and conservative area of Pakistan. Banning CDs, DVDs and TV will not go down at all well - saucy Bollywood movies with a racy wet sari or two are very popular. Singing and dancing is a wonderful way to pass the time. Men particularly like singing and dancing together while the 'ladies' are sequestered in another room (usually singing and dancing too - and in my experience having so much more fun).
These violent 'up yours' moves that flip a middle finger to Islamabad are another underlining mark to show who is in control in the northern and border areas of Pakistan. The US backed Pakistan military have mostly failed in their attempts to wrestle Taliban held areas back into Islamabad's hands. Strategically, most of the NWF areas held by the Taliban are essential; from here, they can sortie into Afghanistan, and hold attack raids on nearby NATO troops.
The charity groups that have been listed as fronts for terrorist organizations, al Qaeda operatives and Taliban friends are crawling all over this part of the world, imposing their will on a population who have no ability to fight back. Lakshar-e-Toiba, widely held responsible for the recent Bombay bombings, is at the pointy end of the push for Sharia rule throughout the province.
Despite recent offensives against the Taliban and its tangled web of associates by the Pakistani military, the Taliban and its imposition of Sharia law, for now, seems set to spread its domination in northern Pakistan.