By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, May 10, 2009
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, May 9 — When black-turbaned Taliban fighters demanded in January that Islamic sharia law be imposed in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, few alarm bells went off in this Muslim nation of about 170 million.
Sharia, after all, is the legal framework that guides the lives of all Muslims.
Officials said people in Swat were fed up with the slow and corrupt state courts, scholars said the sharia system would bring swift justice, and commentators said critics in the West had no right to interfere.
Today, with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Swat and Pakistani troops launching an offensive to drive out the Taliban forces, the pendulum of public opinion has swung dramatically. The threat of “Talibanization” is being denounced in Parliament and on opinion pages, and the original defenders of an agreement that authorized sharia in Swat are in sheepish retreat.