Pakistani pro-Taliban militant leader shuns violence after release

Other News Materials 22 April 2008 11:49 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - A pro-Taliban militant leader who was freed as part of peace talks with militants in Pakistan's restive north-west valley of Swat renounced violence hours after his release from prison, media reports said on Tuesday.

Maulana Sufi Mohammed, chief of the banned Movement for the Enforcement of Mohammedan Law (TNSM), was arrested in 2001 when he returned from what he had called "holy war" against US in Afghanistan.

But the government in North-West Frontier Province released him on Monday following a peace agreement under which he agreed to try to convince his son-in-law and a radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah to give up militancy in the scenic valley of Swat.

The six-point accord between Mohammed and the NWFP government was signed late Monday, the English-language newspaper Dawn reported.

"We want peace and complete writ of the government. Those people who are bent upon lawlessness will be invited to restore peace through peaceful means, but if they do not refrain from militancy the government will have the right to take action against them," said the agreement.

The fighting in Malakand, of which Swat district is a part, has left hundreds of people, including security personnel, dead since late October when Islamabad sent government forces to quell Fazlullah's rebellion for the enforcement of Taliban rule in the region.

But the militancy in Swat and surrounding areas has its origin in an Islamic movement launched by Maulana Sufi Mohammed back in early 1992 under the banner of TNSM, which demanded a judicial system based on sharia, or Islamic law.

Two years later, Mohammed's heavily armed workers occupied government buildings, blocked the main Peshawar-Mingora highway and killed a member of the provincial assembly along with scores of others in the Malakand area.

The insurgency ended after the then government of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto signed a peace deal with the cleric.

In November 2002, he led an army of 10,000 tribal fighters into Afghanistan to battle US troops, but hundreds of his followers were either killed or captured. Two months later he was arrested when fled to Pakistan.

President General Pervez Musharraf imposed a ban on TNSM, terming it a terrorist organization, and a court slammed seven sentences on Mohammed. Five months ago he was shifted to a hospital in the NWFP capital Peshawar, from where he was freed.

"The government has taken the right decision and it will help in restoration of durable peace in the region," the pro-Taliban leader told reporters while welcoming his release. All disputes should be resolved through talks, he added.