Page last updated at 14:08 GMT, Monday, 16 February 2009

Pakistan agrees Sharia law deal


Pakistan valley under Sharia law

Pakistan has signed a peace deal with a Taleban group that will lead to the enforcement of the Islamic Sharia law in the restive Swat valley.

Regional officials urged the Taleban, who agreed a 10-day truce on Sunday, to lay down their arms permanently.

Once one of Pakistan's most popular holiday destinations, the Swat valley is now mostly under Taleban control.

Thousands of people have fled and hundreds of schools have been destroyed since the Taleban insurgency in 2007.

Chief Minister of North West Frontier Province Ameer Hussain Hoti announced a bill had been signed that would implement a new "order of justice" in the Malakand division, which includes Swat.

The bill will create a separate system of justice for the whole region.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan, who was recently in Swat, says the Taleban had already set up their own system of Islamic justice, as they understand it.

[The deal] was reached after realisation that it was the demand of the people
Ameer Hussain Hoti,
NWFP chief minister

Their campaign against female education has led to tens of thousands of children being denied an education, our correspondent says.

US envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke, who is in India, said he needed more information on the deal but that the situation in Swat had "deeply affected the people of Pakistan, not just in Peshawar but in Lahore and in Islamabad".

Mr Holbrooke said Swat "demonstrates a key point and that is that India, the United States and Pakistan have all a common threat now... [we] all face an enemy which possesses a direct threat to our leadership".

'Very positive'

Tribal areas map
The government of North West Frontier Province had been holding talks with local militant leader, Sufi Mohammad, on making amendments to the enforcement of Sharia in Swat.

Sufi Mohammad, a pro-Taleban cleric, is the father-in-law of Maulana Fazlullah, who has been waging a violent campaign to impose Sharia in the region.

Mr Hoti said: "An agreement has been reached with Sufi Mohammad's delegation and this is a great

"The recommendations and proposals have been finalised, but they can only be implemented after peace is achieved."

Mr Hoti said President Asif Ali Zardari had "in principle... approved this package".

Mr Hoti said the agreement had not been made "under pressure from anyone" and was not unconstitutional.

"It was reached after realisation that it was the demand of the people."

The chief minister said the government had done all it could and asked for the Taleban to now lay down their arms.

He said a grand jirga (council) led by Sufi Mohammad would now be going to Swat to get all the factions to comply.

The Taleban have said they will examine the document before ending hostilities permanently.

The Agence France-Presse news agency quoted Sufi Mohammad as saying: "We had been holding negotiations with the government on a 22-point charter of demands for quite some time. There were differences on five points, which were removed in a meeting on Sunday."

Local people fleeing Swat
Many people have fled Swat to be in safer parts of Pakistan
Sharia law has been in force in Malakand since 1994. But appeal cases are heard in the Peshawar high court, which operates under the civil code.

Our correspondent says there will be alterations to the appeals process - a point of contention often cited by the militants for their continued insurgency.

The agreement will bind the provincial government to implement Sharia law in the Malakand division, which comprises Swat and its adjoining areas.

The people of Swat have been caught in the crossfire between the army and the Taleban, our correspondent says.

More than 1,000 civilians have died in shelling by the army or from beheadings sanctioned by the Taleban. Thousands more have been displaced.

The Taleban now control the entire countryside of Swat, limiting army control to parts of the valley's capital, Mingora.

Many people in Swat now would favour an early exit by the army as they have failed to roll back the Taleban or protect the Taleban's opponents, says our correspondent.

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