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Pakistan accepts Islamic law in Swat Valley

Militants signed a cease-fire with provincial authorities Monday after they agreed to impose sharia.

(Page 2 of 2)

Deal meant to undercut militants

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In exchange, Muhammad agreed to call off his protests. The hope is that Muhammad will be able to "nibble away gradually" local support for his militant son-in-law, Fazlullah, says Ismail Khan, Peshawar bureau chief for the English-language newspaper Dawn. "This will deny Fazlullah the slogan that he's fighting for sharia," he says.

However, it's unclear what ability Muhammad has to peel away fighters from Fazlullah, notes Mr. Khan, who doubts the move will result in significant disarmament.

That skepticism is shared by those who see the Taliban's end goal in Swat not to be the rule of Islamic law, but rule by their guns.

"This is not a solution to the problem, nor is this a demand from the militants, because their goal is to control the area," says Mahmood Shah, the former secretary of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

The overrunning of Swat by the Taliban represented a major blow to the civilian government of President Asif Zardari. Previously the insurgents had been contained to FATA, a historically lawless region where Islamabad exercised little to no authority. In an interview this weekend, Mr. Zardari warned that the Taliban had established a presence in "huge parts" of Pakistan.

Swat lies outside FATA and had been a thriving tourist destination within the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) not far from the national capital. The Taliban have struck fear in the mountain region, burning girls' schools, and intimidating hundreds of police to quit.

Military efforts to oust the Taliban from Swat have bogged down in recent days. The government has relied heavily on paramilitary frontier forces that are poorly equipped and not trained in counterinsurgency. As a result, observers say the crude counteroffensive wound up killing civilians and dealing little damage to the Taliban.

Fears of a slippery slope

While the deal may give the Army a face-saving way out of a stalemate, some observers also see the decision as a slippery slope. The fear is that once the government allows a parallel system of justice, the Taliban will ratchet up demands for the harshest forms of sharia to be instituted.

"The government is setting a very bad precedent," says Ghulam Dastageer, court reporter for English-language newspaper The News. "The government will not go for public whipping, cutting off heads and hands. But the Taliban will [eventually] demand we need this type of sharia."