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Pakistan Approves Use of Islamic Law in Swat Valley

April 14, 2009 at 6:40 PM EDT

GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, the decision of the Pakistan government made final yesterday to allow Sharia Islamic law to be imposed in the Swat Valley. The government agreed several weeks ago to hand over control to local clerics and the Taliban.

Correspondent Nick Paton Walsh of Independent Television News explained what happened since.

NICK PATON WALSH, ITN’S CHANNEL 4 NEWS CORRESPONDENT: There’s a new law in part of Pakistan. It’s the Taliban’s, and it’s close to medieval. This man is accused of having gay sex, but there’s no tolerance for him here, just a long, public flogging. They’re happy for us to film and show their kind of justice.

“Now he’s received his punishment in this world,” says the militant. “Don’t talk to him about it.”

Mobile phone footage shows a woman this time accused of adultery. She can’t shield herself. Held down outside her home, her screams act as a warning to her neighbors: There’s a new way of life here in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.

But there is a system behind this rough justice. Religious elders arrive for the very first session of a new Islamic court. There are prayers before judgment in this system that means the rules of the Koran, not the state, take precedence.

It’s a break from the corruption of the past, a spokesman insisted to reporters.

Taliban's power grew

AMIR EZAT KHAN, Militant Spokesman (through translator): Over the past couple of days, a case of a loan dispute was brought to the court. Both sides were summoned and a verdict delivered on the same day. The Taliban wants this system to be successful. And when it is, there will be no need for people to carry arms.

NICK PATON WALSH: This was a police station, but now the Taliban sleep here, their attacks forcing the police out and Pakistan's government into a peace deal under which the Taliban were allowed to have Islamic law here.

Months ago, this picturesque valley was torn up by panic, an estimated 200,000 fleeing the army's advance against the militants, scenes of dislocation just three hours drive from the capital, Islamabad, that shook Pakistan.

For months, the army tried to break the Taliban through force. They failed, and one leader, Mullah Fazlullah, was able to preach the Taliban's new code of conduct over local pirate radio. The voice of Mullah FM got his way.

The battle for Swat began to symbolize Pakistan's struggle to remain a modern society. The Taliban here were leveling schools, the education of girls in particular an anathema to their values.

Access to education changed

NICK PATON WALSH: Children's futures caught in the crossfire, the army also using schools as bases. Now these boys pick through the rubble of where they once learned.

Amir, aged 8, says his poor friends now collect garbage during school hours, and only the rich are able to learn in private schools.

But the headmaster of one private school hopes peace and even Islamic law could bring some normality back to life here.

ZARDINI SUSRI, Headmaster, Swat: Really, we've been through a very harsh experience in the last two years. There was no law at all. There was anarchy. It got into Sharia law.

We have to establish a role model society in Swat. All the unemployed people should be given employment. All the uneducated people should be given education. All the deprived people should be given their basic rights. Then you can punish them according to Islamic law. You can cut a hand of the thief when he steals something.

Un-Islamic acts forbidden

NICK PATON WALSH: But this vision of an Islamic utopia begins to falter even in the local barber. He says half his clients used to come here for a shave, but now a sign on the door reminds people that un-Islamic acts, like shaving, are forbidden.

The new order here pervading society so fast, sometimes it's petty, others it's brutal. But above all, it leaves the growing fear that the Taliban's moment of power here is just beginning.

GWEN IFILL: Judy Woodruff takes the story from there.