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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Swat’s Shariah rule ‘only after peace’

Azhar Masood, Arab News

ISLAMABAD: A day after the Pakistan government agreed to apply Shariah and suspend a military offensive across much of the country’s northwest region, the government, in order to counter the growing criticism of the deal, said President Asif Ali Zardari would not initial the Shariah Ordinance until a sustainable peace in Swat Valley was achieved.

Information Minister Sherry Rehman, who was asked whether the concessions aimed at pacifying the Taleban in the country’s troubled northwest would lead to similar concessions in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas to militants, could only say: “We have not enacted any law or allowed a parallel legal and judicial system.” Later, the president’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar, while giving several arguments in favor of the peace deal, too said: “We are adopting a wait-and-watch policy to see if peace will return to the area.”

The truce announcement came Monday after government representatives held talks with local leaders including Sufi Muhammad. North West Frontier Province Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti announced that authorities would apply Islamic law in the Malakand region, which includes the Swat Valley.

Yesterday, Muhammad went in a caravan of some 300 vehicles to Swat Valley’s main city of Mingora. “We will soon open dialogue with the Taleban. We will ask them to lay down their weapons. We are hopeful that they will not let us down,” Muhammad told reporters. “We will stay here in the valley until peace is restored.” As part of the deal Muhammad agreed to travel to Swat and discuss peace with Maulana Fazlullah, the leader of the Swat Taleban and Muhammad’s son-in-law.

Extremists in Swat have beheaded opponents and torched scores of girls’ schools in recent months, while gunbattles between security forces and militants have killed hundreds. Up to a third of the valley’s 1.5 million people have fled and the scenic area is now believed to be mostly under militant control.

NATO, which heads an international force battling Taleban in Pakistan’s neighbor Afghanistan, expressed concern over the deal. “We would all be concerned by a situation in which extremists would have safe haven,” NATO spokesman James Appathurai told a news briefing in Brussels.

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