Islamabad Pakistani authorities ordered inquiries Friday into a video showing the public flogging of a screaming woman in a northwestern valley where officials have yielded to Taliban demands for Islamic law.
A militant spokesman defended the punishment, fueling a furor that cast more doubt on a creaking peace deal in the Swat valley that U.S. officials fear has created another haven for allies of al-Qaida.
Officials vowed to impose Islamic law, or Shariah, in Swat in February to halt 18 months of terror and bloody fighting between militants and security forces that killed hundreds of people.
Shariah has not yet formally been introduced and provincial officials say that, in any case, they would not condone such whippings or the harsh brand of Islamic law practiced under Afghanistan’s former Taliban rule. But the video provided a reminder of how hard-liners in control of much of the valley interpret Islamic strictures.
Though it was unclear when and where the video was shot, it was believed to have been taken with a mobile phone in the Swat valley. It was broadcast widely Friday on Dunya TV and other Pakistani television stations.
The embattled government of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province struck the deal with a hardline cleric who helped secure a cease-fire. However, President Asif Ali Zardari’s office says he won’t sign the bill introducing Islamic law there unless he is satisfied that peace has been restored — a prospect that seemed to recede Friday after a sharp outcry by rights groups.
“It is not a peace accord in Swat, instead it is a surrender by the government of Pakistan,” said Asma Jehangir, head of Pakistan’s main human rights organization. The flogging “is against all the women of Pakistan.”
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the government remained committed to reconciliation in Swat but warned that it would restart the military operation if its authority was challenged.
The two-minute video, widely aired on local television Friday, shows the woman face down on the ground with two men holding her arms and feet. Her all-enveloping burqa has been hitched up to expose a pair of pink trousers.
A third man in a black turban with a long beard whips her backside more than a dozen times, causing her to scream repeatedly and shout “Stop it, stop it! It is painful!”