Pakistan Investigates Girl's Flogging By Taliban

Pakistan's Supreme Court has ordered an investigation into the public flogging of a teenage girl by the Taliban, which was caught on video. The incident happened in Pakistan's Swat Valley, where the government is forging a peace deal with the Taliban. The flogging has ignited a debate over whether the authorities should be making peace with the militants, and whether that kind of cruel punishment may spread across the country.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

And I'm Ari Shapiro. Good morning. In Pakistan, a brutal beating caught on video has ignited a ferocious debate. The Taliban flogged a teenage girl. You'll hear the footage in a moment. The beating has people asking whether Pakistan's government was right to strike a deal with the Taliban. NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

(Soundbite of screaming girl)

PHILIP REEVES: On the video, you see the fully clothed girl pinned to the ground face down. She's surrounded by a group of men. The men watch silently as she's flogged more than 30 times.

(Soundbite of screaming girl)

REEVES: This is her punishment for allegedly having a relationship with a man who was not her husband. When this footage was made public a few days ago by a Pakistani human rights activist, there was a huge outcry.

The outcry was even heard here, at the highest court in Pakistan. Pakistan's newly restored chief justice convened a meeting of the Supreme Court yesterday about the girl's flogging. The court ordered the authorities to report every two weeks on the progress of their investigations.

Esenar Khani(ph) comes from Swat, where the flogging happened. He says the video disgusted him.

Mr. ESENAR KHANI: I was extremely frustrated when I saw this video. And I was thinking that I should go to Swat, and I should do something. But when I came to know the chief justice has taken notice, I felt comfortable. So I have great hopes, and I am here to listen what is going on.

REEVES: The video has reignited debate about some fundamental issues to do with Pakistani government policy on dealing with Islamist militancy. Pakistan's leading English-language newspaper, Dawn, called the flogging barbaric and blamed it on Pakistani governments past and present for making peace deals with the Taliban. These administrations were guilty of ceding the writ of the state to mass murderers, the paper said.

(Soundbite of protest)

REEVES: It wasn't long after the video emerged before protesters took to the streets around the country. They included Abita(ph) in Islamabad.

ABITA (Protestor): We're ashamed of what's happened. It's a tragedy. It's never been so bad. We just hope things change. We want a change, as you can see.

REEVES: Some Pakistanis believe the Taliban wants to impose its draconian practices on the entire country. For another protester, Bena Kahat(ph), the floggings deepened this fear.

Ms. BENA KAHAT (Protestor): The more Talibanization takes over, the more problems are going to come up. They will come to us - this side of the country; it was the wouth - and then we have no way to stop anyone.

REEVES: But Pakistan is a nation divided. Watching a few yards away is Tal Asad(ph). He has a black beard, a black turban and a long, black robe. Some Pakistanis think the video's a fake. Asad's not sure about that, but he says he suspects the flogging video is propaganda, an attempt to discredit the Taliban and to undermine the peace deal being negotiated in Swat. However, he says, if Islamic clerics actually authorized the girl's flogging, then it's fine by him. He has absolutely no sympathy for the protesters.

Mr. TAL ASAD: They belong to the elite class. They belong to the rich class. They want their big cars. They want their big mansions. What the Taliban is fighting for is socioeconomic justice. That's it. We are the Bolsheviks of the 21st century, actually.

REEVES: The debate over the flogging is more nuanced than a straight fight between moderates and hard-liners. Plenty of Pakistanis were appalled by the video but still want the government to make peace with the Taliban in Swat. They say the alternative's a return to a war the Pakistani army has shown it can't win.

There's another complication. Part of the peace deal in Swat is the introduction of a traditional, fast-track form of Islamic law in the area. Some believe this system will actually deter the Taliban from imposing their far more draconian methods. Others fear the militants will eventually take over the system, and there'll be more public floggings and worse.

Mr. ADNAN ORZA(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: Adnan Orza is the grandson of the man who once ruled Swat in the days when it was a tiny, independent kingdom. He says much will depend on who enforces Swat's Islamic legal system.

Mr. ORZA: Is it the writ of the government of Pakistan, or are they going to make somebody else in charge of the interpretation?

REEVES: We won't know the answer to that question until Islamic law is fully implemented in Swat. That won't happen until Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari signs off on it. So far, he hasn't done so.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.

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