Pakistan-Taliban deal: Islamic law for peace in Swat Valley
The militants released a Chinese engineer held hostage for nearly six months ahead of the cease-fire announcement.
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US officials have yet to comment on the pending deal but are likely to oppose it, reports Qatar-based news service Al Jazeera, noting the ongoing American war against Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in neighboring Afghanistan.Skip to next paragraph
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Pakistan has been engaged in an effort to negotiate with militants in the country's tribal areas and Northwest Frontier Province since 2008, but has so far been unsuccessful.
Regaining control of the Swat Valley ... is a significant test for Pakistan's civilian leadership....
But Pakistan says that force alone cannot defeat all opposition groups and that talks must take place, although several past deals have failed.
Unlike regions under tribal rule in the northwest, where al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters have found safe havens to launch attacks both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Pakistani government has typically controlled the Swat Valley.
Conservative groups aiming to introduce sharia have been fighting government troops in the region since 2007.
The groups took control there after a 2008 peace deal collapsed, within months of being signed.
Speaking to the Guardian, critics say that agreeing to Taliban demands for Islamic law in one part of the country will open the door for the movement and its allies to demand and win similar changes in other provinces.
Critics warned that the new sharia regulations represented a capitulation to the extremists' demands, and that it would be difficult to stop hardliners elsewhere in the country from demanding that their areas also come under Islamic law.
"This is definitely a surrender," said Khadim Hussain of the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy, a thinktank in Islamabad. "If you keep treating a community as something different from the rest of the country, it will isolate them."
Javed Iqbal, a retired judge, speaking on Pakistani television, said: "It means that there is not one law in the country. It will disintegrate this way. If you concede to this, you will go on conceding."
But Outlook India reports that, with most of the region already under its control, the Taliban has effectively been enforcing its interpretation of Islamic law for some time.
The Taliban in Swat have executed dozens of government employees, including policemen, and people they accused of indulging in "un-Islamic" activities. They have banned the education of girls and bombed or torched nearly 200 schools in the valley.
The militants, who control most parts of Swat, have also banned the playing of music in public transport and barred barbers from shaving beards.
Hajji Adeel, a high-level secular politician in the Northwest Frontier Province who participated in negotiations with Sufi Mohamed, the TSNM leader, says the deal is more about speeding up a corrupt and inefficient court system than writing Islamic extremism into law, reports the Guardian.
The creaky colonial-era legal system in Pakistan means that cases drag on for years, sometimes decades, a major source of anger for ordinary people. "If six months ago, this [sharia] had started working in Swat, the intensity of the terror there would have been much less," said Adeel....
The new law is a relatively mild form of sharia, with the aim of undermining support for the extremists and their populist demand for speedy Islamic justice. Religious experts, known as ... qazi, will sit in the court, alongside a regular judge, to ensure that the rulings are in compliance with Islam.