Pro-Taliban cleric pulls out of peace deal

Supporters of cleric Sufi Mohammad gather as they march during a peace rally in the Swat Valley.
Pro-Taliban cleric Sufi Mohammad has announced he has pulled out of a peace deal in the violence-plagued Swat Valley, saying the government is not serious about implementing Islamic law, or sharia, in the region.

Mohammad brokered the cease-fire in late February between the Pakistani government and his son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah, who commands the Taliban in Swat Valley. With the deal, the area would come under sharia law, which — under the Taliban’s strict interpretation — would prevent women from even being seen in public without their husbands or fathers. Speaking to reporters Thursday, Mohammad expressed frustration that President Asif Ali Zardari had not signed off on the peace deal. He blamed the Pakistani government for any bloodshed that might follow. Mohammad’s pullout does not automatically mean the deal is over. The Taliban, itself, has not announced whether or not it too is pulling out. A lawmaker with the Awami National Party (ANP) of the North West Frontier Province — where Swat is located — said he did not expect fighting to resume. “God willing, there won’t be anything that happens to take this [peace] out of our hands,” said Hashem Baber of the ANP. The province’s government will send a contingent to meet with Mohammed and hear his complaints.

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“We’ll meet and talk and if they have an complaints, we’ll try to push those away and solve the situation to get back to the peace deal,” Baber said. Critics of the cease-fire have called it a major concession by the Pakistani government in an attempt to hold off Taliban attacks. Indeed, after the deal went into effect, Fazlullah proclaimed himself the Emir of Swat. Swat Valley was once one of Pakistan’s biggest tourist destinations. It is near the Afghanistan border and is 186 miles (300 kilometers) from the capital, Islamabad. The central government has long exerted little control in the area, but it launched an intense military offensive in late July to flush out militants from areas of the North West Frontier Province

As retaliation for the military presence, the Taliban carried out a series of deadly attacks, beheadings and destruction of girls’ schools. They also continued to gain ground, setting up checkpoints throughout the area. Elsewhere in Pakistan a police constable was killed and three other people were wounded Thursday in rioting by separatists, police said.The constable was killed in the Khuzdar district of the Balochistan province, near the Afghan border. In the provincial capital of Quetta, the three people were wounded when rioters tossed hand grenades at police vehicles.The Balochistan separatists were angered by the discovery of three comrades’ mutilated bodies, local media reports said.The separatists have been carrying on a low-level insurgency in Balochistan for years.