Taliban eye Islamabad, threaten to pull out of Swat peace deal (Second lead)

April 9th, 2009 - 10:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, April 9 (IANS) After consolidating their position in a vast swathe of the country’s restive northwest, Taliban militants now seem to be eying this Pakistani capital, even as they threatened to walk out of a peace deal in the Swat valley if the federal government doesn’t play ball.
A large group of Taliban fighters has moved into the Buner area, an otherwise peaceful district just 100 km northwest of Islamabad, despite local elders asking them to stay out, and sparked fears that they could next move on to the federal capital.

“The day is not far when Islamabad will be in the hands of the Mujahideen,” The Nation Thursday quoted Taliban commander Mullah Nazeer Ahmed as saying.

“Tense calm prevailed as armed militants expanded their activities to Bagra and Kalabatt areas of Buner despite repeated calls by the Quami Jirga (elders’ council) to vacate the district,” Dawn News channel said Thursday.

Meanwhile, uncertainty loomed Thursday as a radical cleric who had brokered a peace deal with the Taliban in Swat shut down his camp in the area after accusing the federal government of insincerity in ratifying the pact.

Speaking to reporters in Swat, Maulana Sufi Mohammad of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz e Shariah-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) said he was not pulling out of the deal but was only shutting his peace camp in the area.

Initial reports said the cleric had withdrawn from the deal inked Feb 16 between the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) government and the TNSM, which is aligned to the Taliban, on imposing Sharia laws in seven districts of the province, including the picturesque Swat Valley that was once a popular tourist destination.

Sufi Mohammad had subsequently held talks with local Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah, who is also his son-in-law, on the militants laying down their arms.

The cleric also said that while the NWFP government was sincere in implementing the pact, the federal government was dragging its feet on ratifying the accord.

He maintained that peace could not return to the region unless Sharia laws were in place.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who had given the go-ahead for the deal, has said he would ratify it only if peace returned to the area.

Zardari, however, has been under immense pressure to turn down the deal, particularly after the emergence last week of a video depicting a 17-year-old girl publicly receiving 38 lashes over an alleged illicit relationship. Though the incident was denied, it sparked universal outrage.

The president’s approval is necessary because the provincial government cannot amend its laws without his nod.

The deal with the Taliban had attracted international condemnation as it was seen to be bowing to the militants.

The Taliban-TNSM’s main demand was the replacement of regular courts with Islamic courts. There are reports that over 70 Sharia Courts have already been established in Swat.

Protracted fighting between the Pakistani security forces and the Taliban has forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee Swat. Estimates vary, but human rights monitors believe that up to 800,000 of the valley’s 1.8 million people may have left.

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