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Can the return of justice halt the Taliban?

From Reza Sayah, CNN
A Pakistani soldier patrols Mingora, the main town of Swat Valley, on August 1, 2009.
A Pakistani soldier patrols Mingora, the main town of Swat Valley, on August 1, 2009.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Population of Pakistan's Swat valley grew frustrated at the implementation of justice
  • Taliban were able to exploit this and introduce their own strict code of law
  • Courthouses were shut, lawyers' hall bombed, floggings and beheadings took place
  • Pakistan army retook the region in spring, justice has taken longer to restore

MINGORA, Pakistan (CNN) -- Nasir Rehman has been waiting 25 long years to resolve a land dispute case. In that time, he's lost his mother, father and two children. He sold his house and a chunk of his land to pay for the dragging litigation.

But now, with a new judicial system in gear in Pakistan's Swat Valley, Rehman, 74, is hopeful that he will finally find resolution.

"I'm happy," Rehman said. "May Allah let the system continue forever."

Residents said the courts here were ineffective -- slow moving and often corrupt.

Lawyers at the Mingora courthouse said that all you had to do to delay a case was simply not show up. People grew frustrated.

"They were fed up with the proceedings of the court, particularly the delay in proceedings" said lawyer Hazrat Usman.

That was one of the major reasons that the Taliban was able to take control of Swat.

Video: Swat courts back in session
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The militants exploited the grievances of the population and gained support with promises of swift justice in the form of Sharia, a strict code of law based on the Quran.

But what the Taliban delivered was their own brand of the law.

Courtrooms fell silent as the Taliban captured the region. The main courthouse was shut and the local lawyers' conference hall, bombed. Public floggings and beheadings outraged the people.

The government regained control of Swat Valley after a successful Army offensive last spring. But the court hiatus did not end until recently.

Swat's main courthouse is now back in full swing, teeming with lawyers in their trademark black suits.

New regulations impose strict time limits, giving judges four months to hear criminal cases and six months for civil cases. Those who fail to show for court dates face fines.

"Of course, people are happy," said lawyer Aftab Alam.

We have been tortured. We have been humiliated. We lost our businesses.
--Qawi Khan

Usman added that before, insecurity prevented people from going to court. But Swat remains a work in progress and Usman said it was imperative for the government to provide safety.

"Not just for the courts," he said, "but for all people."

Lawyer Qawi Khan said it felt good to be back in court.

"We have been tortured. We have been humiliated. We lost our businesses." he said. "We lost everything for the sake of peace."

He said the new system is a golden opportunity for Swat as it struggles to recover from war.

But not everyone is that optimistic.

Judge Khalil Khan Khalil fled the fighting in Mingora in March and did not return home until August. He said he has received death threats for his work but the government has yet to give him shelter and facilities in which he feels safe.

He said more than 1,000 cases are pending in Swat's anti-terrorism court alone. And he is the sole judge.

"It's not possible," he said, for the new system to work.

"We need more judges because the dependency is huge and it is impossible in the stipulated period," he said.

For Pakistan, which remains a mostly moderate and secular country, an enormous amount is riding on the success of the judicial system in places like Swat, home to thousands of people who live below the poverty line.

If the government fails to provide more judges and an effective court process, it will fail people like Nasir Rehman, Khalil said.

And perhaps open the door for the Taliban yet again.