Page last updated at 12:26 GMT, Thursday, 12 March 2009

Sharia law begins in Swat valley

Crowd in Swat welcomes Sufi Mohammad

Sharia courts have re-opened in four administrative areas of the troubled Swat valley in north-western Pakistan, officials in the area say.

All the four areas are Taleban strongholds, they say.

The judges of the courts were formally inaugurated on Thursday by cleric Sufi Mohammad in front of a large gathering of spectators from all over Swat.

The cleric signed the Sharia deal with the government last month and is now mediating between it and the Taleban.


The agreement paved the way for the imposition of Sharia law in the region in return for an end to the Taleban insurgency.

Tribal areas map

It has been strongly criticised by the US, which argues that it is a capitulation to the Taleban.

The four courts which re-opened on Thursday are in the Khwazakhel, Kabal, Varikot and Matta areas.

The BBC's Abdul Hai Kakar in Peshawar says that Sharia courts used to operate in the region throughout the 1990s, but towards the end of that decade they functioned more and more rarely.

Our correspondent says that the courts have the power to impose strict sentences in accordance with Islamic Sharia law.

The opening ceremony was presided over by Sufi Mohammad, whose son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah is the Taleban leader in Swat.

Sufi Mohammed was instrumental in the campaign for Sharia law to be imposed in parts of Swat in 1994.

Correspondents say that Sharia has been the central plank of the Taleban's war ideology in Swat - unlike in the more egalitarian tribal regions called the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), where disputes over Sharia have not been central to the military-militant conflict.

Last month the North West Frontier Province government signed an agreement with Sufi Mohammad's proscribed Tanzim-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM) for the implementation of the Sharia justice system in Swat.

Sufi Mohammad, who opposes militancy, led thousands of TNSM workers into Swat to set up a peace camp there and to start talks with Maulana Fazlullah.

More than 1,000 civilians have died in shelling by the army or from beheadings sanctioned by the Taleban in Swat and thousands of people have fled the former tourist haven.

The Taleban have also destroyed hundreds of schools in their campaign against female education.

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