Page last updated at 16:30 GMT, Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Swat 'dancing girls' must leave

Swat dancing girl at home

An agreement has been made in Pakistan's troubled Swat valley to remove dancing girls from the main town of Mingora, a top official has said.

Malakand Commissioner Mohammed Javed told the BBC that an agreement had also been made for shops and businesses in Swat to close during prayer times.

Militants and officials recently agreed a truce as they try to implement a peace deal that will bring Sharia law.

However, more violence on Tuesday has put the truce under increased strain.

Suspected militants shot and killed two soldiers and kidnapped an official.


Mr Javed told the BBC that the agreement to remove the dancing girls and close businesses during prayers was agreed between him and Sufi Mohammad, the cleric who is brokering the peace deal between the government and militants in Swat.

Local people fleeing Swat
Many people have fled Swat to be in safer parts of Pakistan

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Pakistan says that critics of the deal see it as part of the growing Talebanisation of Swat and proof that the militants are increasingly exerting their influence despite President Asif Ali Zardari's recent assertions that Pakistan has not and will not negotiate with "extremist Taleban and terrorists".

Our correspondent says that the decision to make the dancing girls leave Mingora effectively means they have been sent into internal exile and that Swat is now embracing an Islamic legal system that also pronounces on social and political questions.

The Taleban have destroyed nearly 200 schools, most of them for girls, during a sustained campaign against secular education in Swat.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Mr Zardari said that the "clerics" with whom his government had engaged in Swat valley were not the Taleban.

Asaif Ali Zardari
Mr Zardari says Pakistan will not negotiate with militants
"Indeed, in our dialogue we'd made it clear that it is their responsibility to rein in and neutralise Taleban and other insurgents," he wrote.

"If they do so and lay down their arms, this initiative will have succeeded for the people of Swat Valley. If not, our security forces will act accordingly."

Mr Zardari said that "this process of weaning reconcilable elements of an insurgency away from the irreconcilables has been mischaracterised in the West".

He said that Pakistan would "not condone" the closing of girls' schools in Swat.

"Indeed, the government insists that the education of young women is mandatory. This is not an example of the government condoning or capitulating to extremism - quite the opposite."

Mr Zardari said Pakistan's fight against terrorism was "relentless" and the government had conducted a number of operations against militants.

Swat has been the scene of bloody clashes between militants and government forces since November 2007.

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

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