05/22/2008, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Government strikes a deal with Taliban, Sharia to be enforced in the northern part of the country

Under a 15-point agreement the Swat Valley should come under the administrative and legal control of Islamic militias. For the United States and NATO it is a great favour for al-Qaeda. Various Pakistani analysts are sceptical about the deal, which they see as a way to carve up the country.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – The Pakistani government is granting Taliban militias the right to occupy a good chunk of the North-West Frontier Province in order to stop violence by Islamic fundamentalists. Radical Muslims have also obtained the right to set up local Islamic courts which will enforce Sharia or Islamic law.

Under the terms of the agreement central authorities will be able to dismantle many military posts in the area set up to stop suicide attacks by local warlords against the local population. In exchange for these concessions, the extremists must stop their violence and dismantle their training camps.

The deal did not go down well in Washington or with NATO both of which consider such deals as greatly helping al-Qaeda and the Taliban who for a long time have sought refugee in Pakistan. US intelligence sources believe in fact that Osama bin Laden and the mullah Omar are staying in fact in that area.

For Great Britain and Afghanistan the decision has also a positive side. Although nothing more can be hoped for, according to a Foreign Office official in London the deal does at least end the violence against the population and international troops operating in the area. Similarly in Kabul there are hopes that the Taliban-held area might stop the flow of Islamic terrorists into the area.

For its part, Islamabad has defended the 15-point agreement with Taliban leaders, which includes a pledge not to attack members of other religions or impose the veil on women as well as a promise to allow women to have access to health care and education.

According to the province’s senior minister Basher Ahmad Bilour acts of extremism or religious or gender discrimination will not be tolerated in the area granted to the Qur’anic students.

Enforcing Sharia law in the area will however be a complicated matter. For the government the Taliban will cooperate with the central authorities in matters like abductions and murders but will be free to pass their own judgement on less important issues. This means however wholly ceding legal authority over people’s daily life, not to mention their religious choices.

For various analysts such a decision is a disaster. Pulling the army out of the area and handing it over to the Taliban means weakening the central institutions which should instead be the cornerstone of the new government. In doing so, the Swat Valley will become into an Islamic enclave that will bring into being people with little in common with the rest of Pakistan.  

For others the deal reflects a goal sought by Asif Ali Zardari, husband of the late Benazir Bhutto and acting leader of her party, namely to get protection in what is for him a difficult legal and political  phase in his career in exchange for granting Taliban militias their independence.

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