Pakistani cleric pledges peace after Sharia law approval

April 14th, 2009 - 6:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, April 14 (DPA) Pro-Taliban cleric Sufi Mohammad pledged peace in the Swat valley Tuesday as the Pakistani government approved Islamic Sharia law for the troubled north-western region, to honour a truce with Taliban militants.
President Asif Ali Zardari signed the controversial regulation introducing the Islamic law in eight districts of Malakand region including Swat, immediately after the National Assembly approved it unanimously late Monday.

“Now, we guarantee total peace in Swat,” the Urdu-language Aaj news channel quoted Mohammad as saying Tuesday.

The hardline cleric brokered a peace agreement Feb 16 between the regional government in the North West Frontier Province and the local Taliban, led by his son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah.

The rebels agreed to cease violence in return for implementation of Sharia law, and Mohammad set up a peace camp in Mingora, the main town of Swat, to put an end to months of insurgency.

But the mediator packed up his camp Thursday to protest the delay on the part of Zardari, who had linked the implementation of Islamic justice to complete restoration of peace in Swat.

Amid fears of resurgent violence, the secular Awami National Party, which rules the north-western province, pressured Zardari, who referred the document to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani at the weekend, with a recommendation to debate it in the parliament.

All political parties, except for the Karachi-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Monday favoured the imposition of Sharia law in Malakand to end months of fighting in Swat.

Fazullah’s spokesman had earlier announced that any lawmaker opposing the Sharia law would be committing “apostasy”.

Analysts say Zardari could have approved the regulation independently, but involved the political parties to share the blame for possible repercussions.

The government’s move to cede authority to Swat militants has sparked concern both at home and abroad.

Western powers believe the decision would embolden the militants, whereas part of Pakistan’s civil society says imposition of Sharia law would result in human rights abuses, as seen in the case of controversial public flogging of a girl in Swat recently.

However, establishment of Sharia courts in Swat last month was welcomed by the local people for their quick dispensation of justice.

Mohammad asked Taliban groups Tuesday to lay down their arms and help in successful implementation of the Islamic system of justice.

But commentators believe the cleric has little influence over the hardcore element of the Taliban, which is trying to strengthen its hold across the region.

Scores of militants from Swat travelled to the neighbouring district of Buner last week, triggering clashes with police and a militia from by the residents. Three policemen and two locals were killed in the fighting.

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