Pakistan to set up Islamic courts to appease Swat militants

The provincial government in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province said Monday that it would set up Islamic courts in the restive Swat Valley under a peace deal with pro-Taliban militants, dpa reported.

A government security operation in the region would also come to a halt under a five-point accord signed Sunday between the provincial government and a pro-Taliban cleric, Maulana Sufi Mohammad, whose son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah is fighting government forces for the enforcement of strict Islamic sharia laws.

Under the peace deal, the authorities would establish so-called qazi courts, which apply sharia law, to provide speedy justice to the people in the Malakand region, of which Swat is a district.

 Provincial Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti told reporters in the provincial capital, Peshawar, that all laws that stand in conflict with Islam and sharia would be abolished.

"Those who took the path of violence for this cause should abandon violence after today's historic decision," he said. "They should now play their role in restoring peace in Swat."

Hoti said the security forces would stay in "reactive" instead of "proactive" mode after the agreement: "They will only retaliate."

Fazlullah welcomed the development Sunday by announcing a 10-day ceasefire.

"We have declared a unilateral ceasefire for 10 days as a goodwill gesture," his spokesman Muslim Khan said. "Our fighters will not attack security personnel and government installations."

However, he warned that their comrades retained the right to defend themselves if attacked by troops.

Swat, located about 160 kilometres north-west of Islamabad, was a popular tourist destination before Fazlullah launched his armed campaign in 2007, prompting a security operation in the region.

The fighting has left hundreds of civilians as well as militants and security personnel dead over the past 14 months and triggered a mass exodus of the local population to safer areas.

The rebels have bombed dozens of shops selling entertainment media, banned female education in the region and prohibited barbers from shaving off beards.

However, the agreement might encourage militants to demand the imposition of similar sharia laws across Pakistan.

Taliban spokesman Khan said: "We want to enforce sharia not only in the country but the entire world."

Marvi Memon, an opposition leader and member of the National Assembly, said such an agreement is fundamentally wrong.

"How can we allow a person to impose self-defined narrow at gunpoint?" she said, referring to Fazlullah.

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