Monday, April 27, 2009

Creeping Sharia in Pakistan

Having made a deal with the devil, the Pakistani government is finding itself increasingly embroiled in a mess of its own creation.
April 28, 2009
Cleric Accuses Pakistan of Violating Swat Accord
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A radical cleric who has been mediating peace talks between the government and Taliban militants broke off negotiations Monday to protest a military operation mounted by government forces Sunday in an adjoining district.
"We are suspending talks with the government until the military operation in Dir is halted," said Amir Izzat, a spokesman for Maulana Sufi Muhammad, a cleric who is leader of the banned movement Tehrik-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat Muhammadi. The movement still adhered to the February peace agreement, however, but would only resume talks when the operation stopped, he said.
Yet the uneasy peace that has lasted in the Swat Valley since the February accord looked increasingly imperiled as both sides accused the other of violating the agreement.
A government search operation continued in Dir on Monday and local residents were reported to be fleeing the area. Schools and markets were closed and the area under was curfew, local television reported. Pakistani paramilitary troops backed by artillery and helicopter gunships moved into Lower Dir on Sunday, targeting the headquarters of a local Taliban commander, and claimed to have killed some 30 militants.
The senior adviser in the Interior Ministry, Rehman Malik, said the government forces moved in at the behest of local residents and the provincial government who were worried about the presence of armed militants entering mosques and people's homes.
Militants in Swat, their stronghold, reacted with a warning that they would resume fighting unless the operation was stopped. On Monday, militants seized control of the telephone exchange in Bahrain, a town half way up the Swat Valley local officials said.
Lower Dir comes under the February peace agreement under which the government agreed to the imposition of Shariah courts in the Malakand Agency and both sides agreed to halt military activities. Relative peace returned to the Swat valley as Pakistani Army troops returned to their bases, but armed militants continued to move freely around the region, and have spread into adjoining districts, imposing their presence and intimidating people.
They have insisted they will remain armed until the Shariah courts are set up and functioning, but appear to be set on spreading their influence to a growing area and seizing goods, vehicles and belongings from local residents and organizations.
Pakistani troops assisted by helicopter gunships attacked Taliban militants in the Malakand Agency on Sunday in the first significant action since insurgents took control of Buner, a district only about 60 miles from Islamabad, the capital, last week.
The operation, in the Lower Dir district west of the Taliban-controlled Swat Valley, killed 30 militants and one paramilitary soldier, Pakistan's Interior Ministry said.
The fighting appeared to signal a stronger resolve by Pakistan's government to challenge moves by Taliban factions to expand the areas they control outside of Swat. Pakistani analysts said it could endanger the peace pact under which Pakistan ceded control of Swat to the Taliban.
Government officials said the peace deal remained intact, but warned the Taliban to lay down their arms.
"Enough is enough. We have decided to flush them out," Mr. Malik told the independent television channel Geo on Sunday.
"The peace accord was linked to peace. When there is no peace, there is no use for that accord," Mr. Malik said. "I appeal to the Taliban to lay down their arms. There is no other option for them."
American officials have strongly urged Pakistan to move resolutely against the militants. They have expressed fears that the Taliban could continue to use Swat as a staging ground for assaults on other parts of the country, and perhaps threaten the viability of the country's civilian government.
After the Taliban wrested control of Buner last week, domestic politicians and the news media also criticized the Pakistani Army for remaining on the sidelines as the Taliban marched unchallenged toward the heart of Pakistan's populated urban areas.
President Asif Ali Zardari is scheduled to travel to Washington in early May for a meeting with President Obama.
But it remains unclear whether the country's powerful military has decided to engage militants more forcefully in other areas.
The army has strongly resisted being drawn into a battle against Taliban insurgents and prefers to keep its focus on India, its archrival.
The operation in Lower Dir, involving artillery as well as gunships, was aimed at stopping the infiltration of militants based in Bajaur, an area in the semiautonomous tribal belt, said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the minister of information for the North-West Frontier Province.
Among the militants the paramilitary troops engaged around the town of Lal Qila in Lower Dir was a senior commander, Qari Shahid, of the Taliban in Lower Dir, Mr. Hussain said.
The Pakistani military said Sunday night that the town of Lal Qila had been "fully secured" by the Frontier Corps.
The operation served as a prelude to a larger one against the Taliban in Buner in the coming days, according to a government official who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.
But the scale of the pending attack by Pakistani forces in Buner remained unclear. It was not spelled out whether the Pakistani Army would conduct the operation or whether it would involve the paramilitary Frontier Corps.
The Taliban took effective control of Buner, a farming valley, a week ago. The militants closed the courts and announced they would soon open courts based on Shariah law.
Some of the Taliban from Swat who had helped in the takeover of Buner returned to Swat in the last few days. But local Taliban remained in control of critical areas of Buner, and continued to loot stores, gas stations and other property.
In response to the paramilitary action, a radical cleric affiliated with the Taliban in Swat, Maulana Shah Doran, told his followers to "prepare for jihad."
Lower Dir is north of the Malakand Agency of the North-West Frontier Province. The Pakistani government agreed this month to the Taliban demand that Shariah courts be established throughout the Malakand region.
Since that agreement, Taliban militants have advanced steadily through Malakand, with their leaders asserting that they were introducing Islamic law.

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