Pakistan: MPs visit Swat after peace accord with militants

Karachi, 18 Feb. (AKI) - By Syed Saleem Shahzad - Members of Pakistan's federal and provincial parliaments went to the Swat valley in the country's northwest on Wednesday after a historic agreement endorsing Sharia law restored peace in the troubled district this week. The peace deal reached with local leader Sufi Mohammad on Monday ended two years of fierce conflict in which at least 1,700 government soldiers and hundreds of civilians were killed and 600,000 people were displaced.

Sufi Mohammad, founder of Tehreek-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi (Movement for the enforcement of Islamic laws) was also due to meet his son-in-law and local Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah in the Matta area of Swat.

The Taliban this week announced a ten-day ceasefire which is now likely to be extended for an indefinite period following the peace deal and agreement on an Islamic judicial system.

The unilateral ceasefire was immediately observed by security forces who lifted their curfew throughout Swat.

On Tuesday, for the first time schools were opened across Swat and Pakistani newspapers published photographs of girls attending school without any problems.

The Taliban’s spokesperson in Swat, Muslim Khan, told Adnkronos International (AKI) on a recent visit to the valley that the Taliban had only targeted those schools where security forces had set up bunkers.

He said the Taliban did not have a problem with education: the Swat valley has the highest literacy rate in surrounding North West Frontier Province.

On Tuesday Mohammad was greeted by thousands of people when he visited a local cricket stadium.

Pakistan’s largest Urdu daily Jang reported that even security officials joined the crowd and greeted Mohammad, in his first public appearance since his release last year from the jail.

Mohammad was arrested in Pakistan when he came back from Afghanistan as the Taliban retreated after the US invasion in 2001.

He had led a militia with 10,000 people, of all ages, who fought against the Americans after the ousting of the Taliban in 2001, despite repeated advice by Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar not to get involved.

Mohammad, now in his eighties, was arrested by the Pakistani authorities while crossing the border. His son-in-law was also arrested and when released he returned to Swat to organise the Taliban movement in the valley which has been fighting government security forces since August 2007.

The ceasefire comes during the tourist season. Almost 300 tourist resorts, including five-star hotels, were closed during the insurgency and according to Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation, 20,000 people employed in the local industry were left unemployed.

The militants have now created a situation where the only genuine secular force in the country, the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party, the ruling party of NWFP must enforce Sharia law.

The ANP strongly sided with the Russians against mujahadeen from the Islamic Afghan resistance and opposed implementation of Islamic law in the country.

The ANP has now emerged as the biggest advocate for the enforcement of Islamic law, not only for its political survival but to ensure the survival of its members for whom security forces failed to protect.

On Tuesday, while ANP leader Asfandyar Wali Khan remained silent, his nephew and chief minister of NWFP Amir Khan Hoti warned the national government that any obstruction of the deal between the militants and the Taliban would be unacceptable.

Hoti's statement came after presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar and information minister Sherry Rahman denied that the government was supporting enforcement of Islamic laws in the country. 



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