Pakistani government officials announced Monday that they have reached an agreement with the Taliban to allow strict Islamic law, or sharia, to be implemented in parts of North West Frontier Province.
It marks a major concession by the Pakistani government in its attempt to hold off Taliban militants who have made significant advances inside the country. The government will recognize sharia for the entire Malakand Division, which includes the Swat district, the chief minister of North West Frontier Province Amir Haider Hoti announced Monday in a news conference. Islamic law is already being practiced in the area, where the Taliban have control. The agreement comes amid negotiations between provincial officials and Taliban representatives, led by Sufi Mohammed.
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The Taliban on Sunday declared a 10-day cease-fire in Swat Valley, which Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan said was a gesture of good will towards the government. The Taliban’s control of Swat is believed to be the deepest advance by militants into Pakistan’s settled areas — meaning areas outside its federally administered tribal region along the border with Afghanistan.
The negotiations in North West Frontier Province are the latest attempt by Pakistan’s civilian government — which took power last year — to achieve peace through diplomacy in areas where Taliban and al Qaeda leaders are believed to have free rein. But analysts, as well as critics within the establishment, have warned that Pakistan’s previous dealings with the Taliban have only given the fundamentalist Islamic militia time to regroup and gain more ground.