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Apr 16, 2009
No surrender of arms, insist Taliban
Pakistani Taliban will not lay down their arms in a northwestern valley as part of a deal that included the introduction of sharia law but will take their "struggle" to new areas, a militant spokesman said on Wednesday.
President Asif Ali Zardari, under pressure from conservatives, signed a regulation on Monday imposing Islamic sharia law in the Swat valley to end Taliban violence. Details of the deal have not been made public but government officials backing the pact have said part of it was that militants would give up their arms.
On Wednesday, Sufi Muhammad, the hard-line cleric who brokered the agreement, urged Taliban fighters in the area to lay down their weapons now that the government had met the Islamic law demand.
He said he would soon lead a rally in Swat in support of the government.
"There will be the writ of the government in Malakand, but it should not interfere in the new Islamic justice system," he added.
While Muhammad has in past interviews decried the very concept of democracy, he took a softer tone when asked if elections would be allowed in the region.
"Islamic law and politics are different things. It is for the government to take decisions about political matters," he said.
But a Pakistani Taliban spokesman in the scenic valley, a one-time tourist destination 125 km northwest of Islamabad, said they would be keeping their guns.
"Sharia doesn't permit us to lay down arms," Muslim Khan said by telephone. "If a government, either in Pakistan or Afghanistan, continues anti-Muslim policies, it's out of the question that Taliban lay down their arms."
The deal covers the Malakand division of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, a largely conservative region near the Afghan border.
The Swat Valley is less than 160 kilometres from the capital, Islamabad, and is believed to be largely under Taliban control.
A great deal remains unclear about how Islamic law will be dispensed in the region. Already, a handful of judges trained in such religious jurisprudence have been hearing cases.
On Tuesday, Muhammad was adamant that the new Islamic courts would not hear grievances against militants' activities over the past two years.
"Past things will be left behind and we will go for a new life in peace," Muhammad told the ARY television channel.
Surging violence across Pakistan and the spread of Taliban influence through the northwest are reviving concerns about the stability of nuclear-armed Pakistan, an important US ally vital to efforts to stabilise neighbouring Afghanistan. The government has struggled to come up with an effective strategy, alternating in different areas between military offensives and peace deals. But the militants have been gaining strength and violence in both Pakistan and Afghanistan has been on the rise.
Some Taliban fighters last week moved out of Swat and into Buner district, only 100 km from Islamabad, and Khan said his men would push into new areas. "When we achieve our goal at one place, there are other areas where we need to struggle for it," he said. Militants infiltrated into Swat in 2007 from strongholds on the Afghan border to the west to support a radical cleric.
Afghanistan said its security could be hurt by the deal in Swat, even though the valley is not on the Afghan border.
Khan said militants would go to Afghanistan to fight US-led forces if Afghan Taliban called for help.
"Our struggle is for a cause and that's to enforce Allah's rule on Allah's land.
We will send mujahideen to Afghanistan if they demand them," he said.
One security analyst, retired Brigadier Syed Mehmood Shah, said peace could be found if the government disarmed the militants: "The agreement should be given a chance." But another said the Swat militants were part of an expanding network.
"There is no comprehensive counter-insurgency strategy from the military or government. They are not taking it seriously," said Khadim Hussain of the Aryana Institute think-tank.
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