Sharia courts open in Pakistan's Swat

Islamic courts have started work in Pakistan’s Swat valley under a controversial deal that the government hopes will end two years of bitter fighting, officials said on Wednesday.

Last month’s agreement to implement sharia in the former ski resort triggered alarm around the world amid fears it would embolden militants throughout the northwest, which is a hotbed for Taliban and al-Qaeda extremists.

“Seven Qazis [judges] have started working in sharia courts in Swat,” said regional commissioner Syed Mohammad Javed.

“Nothing against sharia will be allowed,” he said. Courts began hearing cases under Islamic law on Tuesday.

The judges, all qualified in Islamic law, were appointed in consultation with pro-Taliban cleric Soofi Mohammad, who signed the deal with the government.

Hardline cleric Maulana Fazlullah spent nearly two years waging a terrifying campaign to enforce sharia law in the area, beheading opponents, bombing girls’ schools, outlawing entertainment and fighting government forces.

Muslim Khan, a spokesperson for Fazlullah, welcomed the development.

Ameer Izzat Khan, a spokesperson for Mohammad, said: “It is the result of a two-year struggle. We are thankful to Allah.
Our aim is to impose Allah’s system on Allah’s earth.

“An appeal court will also start functioning soon, the government has assured us,” he added.

Provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said the courts had been set up under a 1990s regulation and that amendments were awaiting official approval by President Asif Ali Zardari.

The minister said that once peace and order was restored fully to Swat, government troops would be pulled out.

“When government writ is established, the military would be phased out gradually,” Hussain said.

Despite the fragile ceasefire, acts of violence have continued. Two soldiers were killed on March 3 after Taliban militants accused them of violating the agreement, and suspected Islamists kidnapped two local officials.

Hussain said about 200 schools destroyed or damaged during the fighting have been given tents so classes can resume.

Senior Cabinet minister Bashir Bilour said sharia courts would soon be extended to six more districts of Malakand, the wider region around Swat.

“The president has assured us he will sign the regulation. Qazi appointments have been made and six more districts of Swat will have sharia courts,” Bilour said.—Sapa-AFP

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