President Zardari signs Peace Deal in restive Swat
GHALLANAI:President of Pakistan has at last signed the regulation late Monday to put a northwestern district under Islamic law as part of a peace deal with the Taliban, going along after coming under intense pressure from members of his own party and other lawmakers.
Asif Ali Zardari's signature was a boon for Islamic militants who have brutalized the Swat Valley for nearly two years in demanding a new justice system. It was sure to further anger human rights activists and feed fears among the U.S. and other Western allies that the valley will turn into a sanctuary for militants close to Afghanistan.
Whatever criticism may come, Zardari can claim some political cover — the National Assembly voted unanimously Monday to adopt a resolution urging his signature, although at least one party boycotted. Earlier, a Taliban spokesman had warned lawmakers against opposing the deal.
Zardari's spokeswoman, Farahnaz Ispahani, confirmed the president signed the regulation Monday night.
His signing implemented a deal agreed to in February by provincial officials to impose Islamic law in the Swat Valley and surrounding areas in exchange for a cease-fire between security forces and the local Taliban.
Zardari had put off signing the agreement, saying he wouldn't until peace was restored in Swat but never defining what that meant. The delay led a hard-line Muslim cleric mediating the agreement to leave Swat in anger last week and upset lawmakers from the region.
As pressure mounted, the federal government said over the weekend that Zardari wanted parliament first to debate the accord to implement an Islamic legal system, as long demanded by some residents disenchanted with inefficient regular courts.
"The whole nation is united in its support of the Swat regulation and wants the president to approve it," Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said at the start of parliamentary debate the other day.
Even without the president's approval, judges trained in Islamic law had begun hearing cases in Swat, and witnesses say Taliban fighters are in effective control of much of the region. The provincial government also agreed to other measures under the peace deal, such as cracking down on prostitution and sales of movies deemed "obscene."
Supporters say the changes in the legal system will speed up justice, not lead to harsh punishments or restrict the rights of women. Critics say the agreement is a surrender to extremists whose tactics include beheading opponents and burning girls' schools.
"We had picked up weapons for the sake of a justice system, and we will put them down for the sake of a justice system," Muslim Khan, spokesman of Taliban said.
Muslim Khan would not say if the Taliban would target legislators who opposed the deal, saying only that a militant council would discuss the matter. The Taliban warned before the vote that lawmakers against the deal were guilty of apostasy, or abandoning Islam, which carries the death penalty in some parts of the Muslim world.
Taliban of Swat have now welcomed the signing of the President and termed it a positive step towards peace in the restive Swat.