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16 Feb 2009 12:25
The Pakistan government and Islamic hardliners on Monday signed an agreement to enforce sharia law in the northwestern Swat valley, a provincial minister told reporters.
The announcement followed talks between the government of troubled North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and a local militant leader, Soofi Mohammad, on formalising the implementation of strict Islamic law.
“Today an agreement has been signed between the government of NWFP and Maulana Soofi Mohammed,” provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told reporters in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
“All laws against sharia will be abolished and sharia will be enforced under this justice system,” he added.
The agreement will cover Pakistan’s Malakand area, one of the districts of NWFP, which includes the Swat valley.
There was no immediate comment from the Islamists.
But Taliban spokesperson Muslim Khan said on Sunday that a 10-day ceasefire, announced as a “goodwill gesture”, could become permanent if a full agreement were signed on Monday.
Until two years ago, Swat was a jewel in the crown of Pakistani tourism, frequented by foreign and local holidaymakers escaping to the mountains for skiing in winter or cooler climes in the punishing heat of summer.
But the northwest region descended into chaos after radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah embarked on a terrifying campaign to enforce Taliban-style sharia law, prompting thousands of people to flee and suffocating day-to-day life.
Pakistan, under massive Western pressure to clamp down on extremists, has pressed military offensives in an attempt to flush out the militants and wrest back control of Swat, which locals say has fallen to the insurgents.
Pakistan has long hoped that negotiations with the Islamists can restore peace to the violence-torn regions.
“It is my hope that the armed people will disarm themselves, give up the path of violence and work for restoration of peace in Swat,” chief minister of NWFP, Amir Haider Hoti, told reporters on Monday.
Hoti had convened a meeting of political and religious leaders and tribal elders in Peshawar.
Twenty-nine delegates from the so-called Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Sharia, led by Maulana Muhammad Alam, attended the meeting on Monday.
Mohammad, a pro-Taliban cleric whose son-in-law is Maulana Fazlullah, said on Sunday that talks on a draft agreement had been successful.
A peace deal signed between Pakistan’s new government and pro-Taliban militants in Swat last May quickly unravelled.
US, Nato and Afghan officials have criticised previous peace deals in Pakistan, saying they have led to an increase in suicide attacks on international and Afghan forces across the border in Afghanistan.—Sapa-AFP
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