Pakistan bows to Taliban, allows Shariat laws (Lead)

February 16th, 2009 - 9:33 pm ICT by IANS  

TalibanIslamabad, Feb 16 (IANS) Pakistan has signed a major peace deal with a Taliban-linked outfit that will lead to the enforcement of Shariat laws in parts of the country’s northwest including the Swat Valley.

President Asif Ali Zadari made the dramatic concession after meeting Sunday officials of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), vast parts of which have been virtually taken over by the Pakistani Taliban.

The implementation of the Shariat laws had been the main demand of the region’s radical cleric Sufi Muhammad Khan of Tehrik-e-Nifaz e Shariah-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) group, which is allied to the Taliban.

This would lead to Islamic law in the entire Malakand division including Swat, a former tourist haven from where thousands have fled to escape fighting between Islamic militants and security forces that have led to numerous killings. Swat can be reached from Islamabad in just three hours.

The Dawn newspaper reported Monday that the president’s approval was sought because the provincial government cannot amend the existing laws in Malakand without his nod.

Under the proposed Nizam-i-Adl (Shariat) Regulation, the appellate jurisdiction of superior courts will be replaced with that of the Federal Shariat Court.

At the same time, the executive magistracy will be revived in the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA).

NWFP Chief Minister Ameer Hussain Hoti told reporters that a bill had been signed that would lead to the implementation of a new “order of justice” in Malakand division.

This would lead to a separate system of justice that would be governed by Shariat laws.

Hoti added that the ceasefire was “the demand of the people”. The announcement triggered celebrations on the streets of Swat, with militants distributing sweets and hugging one another.

According to Pakistani media reports, Shariat law has been in force in Malakand since 1994 but appeal cases are heard in the Peshawar high court, which operates under the civil code.

Provincial Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain said the Awami National Party (ANP) provincial government would hold a grand jirga, or assembly of tribal leaders, that would also be attended by the TNSM leader.

In anticipation of the government announcement, the Pakistani Taliban, which supports the Taliban’s fight against the West and the government of Hamid Karzai in neighbouring Afghanistan, Sunday declared a 10-day truce in the sprawling area.

Pakistani analysts warned that the agreement amounted to a surrender to the Islamic hardliners, who are known to provide sanctuary to both Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders.

“Analysts said the government had bowed its head before the militants in Swat by agreeing to amend the law of the land and enforcement of ’self-styled’ Sharia of a militant organisation like TNSM,” Dawn said.

In remarks that could be interpreted as criticism, US special envoy Richard Holbrooke told reporters in New Delhi that he was travelling when the ceasefire by Pakistani Islamists was announced.

But he added that he had spoken to people from the Swat when he was in Pakistan and that the situation in the restive valley had affected people not just there but also in Lahore and Islamabad.

The TNSM’s main demand is the replacement of regular courts with Islamic courts. Some reports say that more than 70 Sharia Courts have already been established in Swat.

Islamic hardliners in Swat and areas around it have already mounted a major offensive against female education.

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