THE INDEX – February 17, 2009

Yesterday was a watershed moment for Pakistan‘s provincial government of the northwest frontier province and the people of its Swat region. After negotiations between the provincial government and representatives of Tehrik-e-Nifaz Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM), the decision was made to implement Sharia Law (or Islamic jurisprudice) in the Swat region, reports Kashif Aziz in The Huffington Post. Under this system, Islamic judges will replace state appointed judges and the Islamic Law of Justice replaces the “official legal system.” While the residents in Swat and Malakand celebrate this change, many feel this decision has been a Taliban victory and puts the region in danger. Aziz sees the danger as a misconception, as these areas (which became annexed to Pakistan in 1969) were run and thrived under Islamic law well before coming under Islamabad’s governance. Now that Sharia Law has returned, some see the militants having lost much of the thrust behind their tactics, while others see it as a creating an enviroment that allows these militants to do further damage.

The U.S. envoy to South Asia, Richard Holbrooke, spoke of the common enemy that threatens Pakistan, India, and the United States. Holbrooke, meeting in Delhi with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, said that Islamic terrorism is the first threat in 60 years that endangers “our leadership, our capitals, and our people.” Despite a historically adversarial relationship, India and Pakistan now suffer attacks from militants with the same ideals. Holbrooke wants to see greater Indian involvement in Afghanistan, where instability threatens greater turmoil for the region.

Almost 30 years later, members of the Khmer Rouge are finally standing trial in Cambodia. Those involved in the communist regime that took the lives of almost one fourth of Cambodia’s population in the late 1970s will come before the courts sometime next month. First on the stand will be Kaing Guek Eav, 66, who was “the commandant of the Tuol Sleng prison and torture house, which sent at least 14,000 people to their deaths.” Four other senior Khmer Rouge officials are in custody, but their trials aren’t expected to begin until sometime next year. A UN-supported hybrid tribunal of “Cambodian and foreign judges and prosecutors” is hearing the cases, but these trials have unfortunately gained attention for the legal wheeling-and-dealing that was involved in creating the panel. Some are concerned that the Cambodian members of the tribunal will not act independently of the government’s agenda, which fears that  indictments could spread to include current members of Cambodia’s government. As momentus an event as this is, according to the International Herald Tribune and a Berkeley study, 85 percent of Cambodian respondents had little to no clue about the tribunal.

Expect Hugo Chávez to run for president again in 2012, and in all other future races, thanks to the passing of a referendum last Sunday that abolished term limits in Venezuela. Having just completed his tenth year in office, Chavez is already putting his name on the 2012 ballot box as a representative of his ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela. He has long said that it would take another ten years (or until 2018) to put his socialist plan (the “Bolivarian Revolution“) for Venezuela in place, and it looks like Chávez may now have his chance. But while this is undoubtedly a victory for Chavez and his cabinet, many see waning support for the president and hope that the “democratic alternative” may be catching up.

The Cairo-brokered cease fire and prisoner-exchange deal between Hamas and Israel has fallen apart due to the time it has taken to implement the agreement, according to a report in Haaretz. Ten days ago, when Israeli senior defense official Amos Gilad traveled to Cairo for discussions, Egypt thought a deal had been struck to exchange an abducted Israel solider, Gilhad Shalit (taken in 2006), for a number of Palestinians held by Israel. The plan was to announce a done deal by Israel’s election day. When that deadline passed, Cairo thought only another day or two more was needed. Now, according to the Haaretz article, Israel is reopening issues for discussion that those in Cairo considered to be closed and decided. Israel now seems more interested in brokering the prisoner exchange deal without the cease fire attached, and may be reexamining the very prospect of a Gaza cease fire. 

Saudi Arabia will soon have new faces in the leadership of its religious police force and courts after King Abdullah took an unusual step and replaced some cabinet-level offices over the weekend. Leaders with more moderate views on Islam and society now head the institutions that enforce Islamic law. More spectacularly, a woman was appointed to a deputy minister position. The changes could potentially be the first step to a more open society. King Abdullah has a reputation as a reformer, but in the four years of his reign only minimal progress has been made.

In compliance with a treaty, South Sudan will halt military recruitment, said Nhial Deng Nhial, the minister of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement, brokered by Qatar, requires that the North and South reduce the numbers of soldiers in the three recognized national armies. Under the agreement, attacks on refugees are also supposed to end. Although the agreement is “very remarkable progress,” observers are skeptical whether the document has the power to stop the ongoing conflict. About 300,000 people have died and millions have been displaced by the last six years of war, according to the United Nations.

Kosovo is celebrating the first anniversary of its unilateral break from Serbia, which does not recognize the small state’s independence. In the last year, the Kosovar economy saw 6 percent growth and thousands of new jobs, according to the government—but the situation is still tense between the fledgling state and Serbia. The Kosovo parliament is recognized by 54 countries (including the United States, Japan, and all but five European Union members). Russia, however, does not recognize the nation’s independence.

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