Taliban refuse to give up arms in Swat Valley (Lead)

April 15th, 2009 - 12:04 am ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, April 14 (DPA) Taliban militants in Pakistan’s restive northwestern Swat valley Tuesday refused to lay down arms, hours after the Pakistani government approved Islamic Sharia law for the troubled region to honour a truce with them.
“My brother, we have only conventional weapons - and Islamic sharia gives people the right to keep them. Islamic jihad will continue until Judgement Day,” Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan told Geo TV’s Capital Talk show.

The statement came hours after President Asif Ali Zardari signed the controversial regulation introducing Islamic law in seven districts of Malakand region including Swat, immediately after the National Assembly approved it unanimously late Monday.

However, Taliban spokesman Khan welcomed the imposition of Islamic sharia, a cause for which the Taliban had taken to the arms. “Resisting this system is infidelity,” he added.

The regional government in North Western Frontier Province on Feb 16 brokered a peace accord with a local pro-Taliban cleric Maulana Sufi Mohammad to end a 16-month insurgency that killed hundreds of people and displaced tens of thousands.

Mohammad later convinced his disciple and son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah, leader of the local Taliban, to accept the deal.

The rebels agreed to cease violence in return for implementation of Sharia, 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 on 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, formerly a popular tourist destination that is located some 140 km northwest of Islamabad.

Amid fears of resurgent violence, the secular Awami National Party, which rules the northwestern 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 ethnic 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 sharia would be committing “apostasy”.

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

Generally, the establishment of Sharia courts in Swat last month was welcomed by the locals for their quick dispensation of justice.

Hundreds of people distributed sweets in Swat Tuesday as an expression of jubilation over Zaradri’s approval of the peace deal.

But 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 the controversial public flogging of a girl in Swat recently.

“We cannot expect enemies of Islam like the US and Jews to be pleased with the enforcement of Islamic sharia,” said Khan.

His statement came as Mohammad guaranteed “total peace in Swat”, while calling upon Taliban groups 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 residents’ militia in which three policemen and two locals were killed.

However, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said he hoped the Swat peace agreement would improve the situation in Buner in the coming days.

He warned that if Taliban fighters did not lay down their weapons, as promised in the deal, “the government will take action”.

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