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Terrorism & Security

Growing Taliban clout threatens Pakistani government

The group controls large areas in the Swat Valley and runs a parallel court system under sharia law.

By David Montero / January 28, 2009

In recent months, Islamic militants have blown up or burned down some 170 schools such as this one in Mingora, a main town in Pakistan's Swat Valley. In this recent photo, local residents examined the damage.

Sherin Zada/AP

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As the Obama administration repositions Pakistan's tribal belt as the "central front" in the war on terror, one troubled spot is fast emerging just 100 miles from the Pakistani capital: the Swat Valley, where the Pakistani military has launched a new offensive against Taliban militants.

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Yesterday, shelling killed five civilians, according to Dawn, an English-language Pakistani newspaper.

"The military had cleared the areas but militants penetrated them again and it was decided to clear them again and hold on to it to prevent militants' movement there," Director-General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj-Gen Athar Abbas told Dawn.
The army, he said, was following a "new strategy to clear" major urban areas and villages from militants. "There is a new vigour and new approach," Gen Abbas said.

The Swat Valley is not part of Pakistan's tribal belt; it is part of Pakistan proper, in the North West Frontier Province. And yet it is here that the Pakistani Taliban, led by a radical cleric named Maulana Fazlullah, have scored some of their greatest victories, seizing large swaths of territory and holding the Pakistani military at bay for some 18 months.

In perhaps the most brazen sign of their growing power, Mr. Fazlullah's Taliban court in Swat has issued a ruling against nearly 50 Pakistani politicians, effectively sentencing them to death, reports The News, a leading English-language daily.

"The decision was taken at a Shura meeting with Maulana Fazlullah in the chair. Around 50 members of the Shura participated in the meeting and there was consensus on the names of 45-47 people declared as wanted for opposing the Taliban. All of them will have to appear before the Taliban court, otherwise they will face action," [Swat Taliban] spokesman Muslim Khan told The News by phone from an undisclosed location.

The News adds that Pakistan's government immediately condemned the move:

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has made it clear that the Taliban in Swat would not be allowed to run their own courts.
"The parallel system of courts set up by the Taliban is not acceptable," Gilani said.

Still, the Taliban's courts are growing in popularity, a sign of the weakness of the provincial and federal governments, reports The News.

[The] majority of the residents of the militant-infested areas of the restive Swat Valley have been turning to so-called Shariah courts set up by the Maulana Fazlullah-led Taliban for the settlement of their disputes.
These so-called courts are becoming busier every day as majority of the people have turned to them, which settle their disputes within days. The so-called Sharai Adalat (main court) is located in Peuchar where militant commanders, including Maulana Fazalullah, regularly attend the proceedings and decide cases.
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