Zardari approves Sharia laws for Swat: Minister (Night Intro)

April 14th, 2009 - 12:58 am ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, April 13 (IANS) On a day of fast moving developments, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari late Monday approved the imposition of Sharia laws in parts of the country’s restive northwest, including Swat, in return for a controversial deal with the Taliban for laying down their arms.
Zardari signed the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation after parliament approved the measure earlier Monday, Geo TV quoted senior North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour as saying.

The regulation will see the imposition of Sharia laws in the Malkhand division of NWFP that comprises seven districts, including Swat, where the writ of the Taliban largely runs.

Zardari had given his nod for the Feb 16 deal between the NWFP government and Taliban-linked radical cleric Sufi Mohammad but balked at acceding to it in face of growing international pressure.

“We respect the mandate of the provincial government and congratulate the people,” Geo TV quoted Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani as saying after the house cleared the measure, following a walkout by Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) members.

Speaking earlier Monday after the pact was tabled in the National Assembly, Gilani said this had been done as the government wanted to build national consensus on the measure.

“We did not want to by-pass the house as the parliament is sovereign,” APP news agency quoted Gilani as saying.

“We want that our hands should be strengthened and that the whole nation is behind us,” he added.

“The president gave his consent (to signing the accord). He gave a go ahead to have an agreement with the local authorities. The agreement was done with our consent,” Gilani maintained.

Observers here saw the statement as Gilani’s bid to downplay reports that the Swat accord had become a hot potato for Zardari, who had tossed this into parliament’s court, instead of ratifying it.

At the same time, it is a fact that parliament was not consulted when Zardari gave his nod for the accord.

According to The News, “Zardari does not want to be held responsible for any negative fallout if this deal backfires in future, as then parliament will be responsible”.

Many Western nations, including the US termed the deal a “retrograde” step as it was seen as bowing before the Taliban and getting in return too little for giving up too much.

The deal appeared to have come unstuck last week with Sufi Muhammad winding up his peace camp and leaving Swat to protest Zardari’s delay in acceding to the accord. He then clarified the pact was intact but was dependent on Zardari signing it.

Gilani, The News noted, “was also said to have been caught off guard when he received the copy of Nizam-e-Adl from the presidency to table it before parliament as he, too, like rest of the politicians was expecting the president to sign the agreement”.

What apparently tipped the balance was Parliamentary Affairs Minister Babar Awan, who advised the president against taking responsibility for the deal.

“Awan was of the view this deal should be sent to parliament for discussion, debate and subsequent approval or rejection,” The News said, adding the minister said that if parliament, representing the people of Pakistan, was ready to ink the deal with Taliban, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government “would not be singled out in case the deal went wrong at any stage”.

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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