Taliban softens on Sharia appeal courts as Pakistan, US toughen stand(Intro Roundup)

April 24th, 2009 - 12:13 am ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad/Washington, April 23 (IANS) The Taliban appeared to be backing down Thursday, saying it did not intend to create a state within a state following the imposition of Sharia laws in Pakistan’s northwest and also indefinitely extended its deadline for setting up Islamic courts of appeal in Swat.
The developments came as Pakistan Thursday warned of action against the Taliban if it violates the controversial Swat peace agreement and the US accused Islamabad of “abdicating” to the militants.

“We have no intention to set up a state within state. We only want to give Pakistan’s ideology a practical shape,” Izzat Khan, a spokesman of the Tehrik Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) of radical cleric Sufi Mohammad told reporters in Swat.

“We want to keep the peace deal intact at all cost,” he added.

Khan also said the April 23 deadline for establishing Islamic courts of appeal in Swat had been indefinitely extended.

Sufi Mohammad, who had inked the Feb 16 deal with the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) government on imposing Sharia laws in Swat and six other districts of the province in return for the militants laying down their arms, had set the deadline.

The government says appeals against verdicts of the qazi courts that will be set up under the Sharia laws will have to be heard by the NWFP High Court or the Supreme Court. Sufi Mohammad has termed these courts un-Islamic.

Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told reporters in Islamabad: “We reserve the right to go for other options if Talibanisation continues.”

He was responding to a question on reports that parallel Islamic courts of appeal had been set up in Swat.

“We have to ensure the writ of the government runs. We do not wish that a parallel government functions (in Swat) or such (appeal) courts are set up.”

Noting that the Pakistani Army was functioning under the civilian government, Gilani said its assistance could be sought by the federal or the NWFP government if its presence was necessary to restore order in Swat.

Gilani said the Feb 16 agreement was aimed at bringing peace to Swat valley and to provide speedy justice, but the government could review this if Sufi Mohammad fails to live up to his end of the bargain.

Speaking in Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Wednesday accused the Pakistani government of “abdicating to the Taliban” and warned that the deterioration of security in Pakistan poses a “mortal threat” to the US and the world.

Clinton, in an appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday, her first since being confirmed, spoke of the “daunting challenges topped by the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan”.

“I think that the Pakistani government is basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists,” she said, calling disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan “probably the world’s greatest proliferator”, though she appeared reluctant to link aid to Islamabad with getting information from him about his activities.

Warning that Pakistan was in danger of falling into terrorist hands because of failed government policies, Clinton said that the deterioration of security in nuclear-armed Pakistan “poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world”.

“I think that we cannot underscore the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan by continuing advances, now within hours of Islamabad, that are being made by a loosely confederated group of terrorists and others who are seeking the overthrow of the Pakistani state, a nuclear-armed state,” she said.

Several members of Congress voiced concern about Islamic extremists gaining ground in Pakistan, including the committee’s Democratic chairman Howard Berman, who warned the United States cannot allow extremists to control Pakistan or operate with impunity along the border with Afghanistan.

Talking about the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan, she said: “As daunting as these challenges are, they also offer us new arenas for global cooperation, and we’re taking steps to seize these opportunities.”

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