» 02/17/2009, 00.00
Justice and Peace: sharia in Swat valley is a defeat for entire country
Peter Jacob, secretary of the bishops' conference commission, criticizes the agreement between the government and the Taliban. It provides for peace in exchange for the introduction of Islamic law in the Swat valley. The human rights activist does not foresee a Taliban regime like the previous one in Afghanistan, but fears violations of the rights of women and religious minorities.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) - "For us it is a setback and a strategy that will not work." The tough talk comes from Peter Jacob, national secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), speaking about the agreement between the local government and the Taliban. It allows the introduction of sharia - Islamic law - in exchange for a ceasefire in the district of Malakan, which includes the Swat valley, in the northwest part of the country on the border with Afghanistan. The agreement was signed yesterday by the government of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Taliban militia group Tahrik-e-Nifaz Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM).
"We think that the more space we will give to fundamentalism, the more they will try to gain from this strategy," Peter Jacob stresses to AsiaNews. He recently returned from a visit to the NWFP, and emphasizes that the agreement "is a tactical step of the provincial government to resolve Islamic militancy in Swat." The human rights activist met with various local political leaders, and explains that "sharia is an emergency medicine" to resolve the situation of tension, but if this does not produce the desired results, "there will be strict action against militants there."
Peter Jacob says, however, that he is sure that the areas where Islamic law is introduced will not see a Taliban regime like the previous one in Afghanistan, because the ruling liberal Awami National Party is confident about the agreement. "But of course as the result of sharia law implementation, the first casualties would be women and religious minorities, because the freedom of women and other faiths would not be tolerated."
According to the latest information, the delegation of the TSNM, headed by the leader Sufi Muhammad, has come to the Swat valley to verify that the peace agreements are being respected. During his stay in the area, mullah Sufi Muhammad will try to convince the mullah Fazlullah - head of the Taliban militias in the Swat - to lay down his weapons in exchange for the introduction of Islamic law.
Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari has not yet signed the document ratifying the peace agreement: he will sign it only after it has been ascertained that the ceasefire is being respected in the Swat, in the district of Malakand, and in the areas that have recently seen fighting between the military and the militias.
The North-West Frontier Province has for some time been the theater of a massive campaign by the Taliban, who want to introduce sharia and Islamic courts. The Swat valley fell into the hands of the Taliban in the autumn of 2007; the army immediately launched a vast offensive to regain control of the territory. An initial agreement, which provided for the introduction of sharia, never went into effect. Last summer, the military launched a second offensive that failed to uproot the Taliban militias from the area.
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The end of conflict could mark new persecutions of religious minorities and women. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expresses "serious concern" and emphasizes that the agreement will have repercussions in the whole country.
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One woman has been killed, and 28 people have been injured at the Presbyterian church in Songo. Violence is on the rise in the Swat Valley and in the northern regions. Thousands of people are fleeing after the introduction of sharia, including many teachers and entire families. In Takhtbhai, in the district of Mardan, there have been bomb attacks on 16 music stores.
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