By SABRINA TAVERNISE –
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan has signed a measure that would impose Islamic law in the northwestern valley of Swat, in a move that was largely seen as a capitulation to Taliban militants.
Mr. Zardari’s approval came late Monday, after Parliament voted overwhelmingly for the measure, which would allow militants to administer justice through courts whose judges have Islamic training.
The local government in Swat agreed in February to allow the militants to impose Islamic law in exchange for a cease-fire. The deal came after months of fighting, during which the Pakistani Army was unable to subdue the militants.
Mr. Zardari had delayed giving the agreement a national stamp of approval, saying that the militants should first demonstrate that they would abide by the cease-fire. He signed the measure under pressure from conservatives, even though little in the valley has changed.
The deal has raised concerns in the Obama administration, which is pressing Pakistan to work harder to counter militants as the United States steps up its campaign in neighboring Afghanistan.
“We’re disappointed that the Parliament didn’t take into account the legitimate concerns around civil and human rights,” the White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said Tuesday.
Residents of the Swat Valley, once one of Pakistan’s most popular vacation spots, have been terrorized by militants from the Taliban, who human rights activists say are using Islam as an excuse to extend their own power. In the past week the Taliban made inroads into Buner, a district only 60 miles from the capital and likely to be the next district to fall under their control.
“The conflict is political, not religious,” said Ibn-e-Abduh Rehman, head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “They don’t want Parliament, they don’t want elections, they don’t want judges.”
A former interior minister, Aftab Ahmad Sherpao, said the government had no choice but to back the deal because its military campaign in the area had failed and civilian casualties had been mounting.
“This agreement was reached not from a position of strength but from a position of weakness,” he said.
The government now needs to press the militants by monitoring whether they hold up their end of the bargain to lay down their arms, Mr. Sherpao said.
Critics of the deal worry that it could simply provide the militants with a new haven from which they can carry out attacks. But Mr. Sherpao said the signing meant the militants had no excuse to use violence.
Source: The New York Times
Salman Masood contributed reporting.