The Pakistan government on Monday agreed to enforce Islamic law in large areas of its restive North West Frontier Province, including the Swat valley, in a concession to buy peace in the region, which has been the scene of a raging Taliban insurgency.
An agreement signed between the NWFP government and the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah Mohammadi, abolishes all legislation that goes against Shariah or Islamic law and lays down that, though the troops will remain in the region, but will act only if fired upon.
The deal, which worked out after peace talks with pro-Taliban groups, also envisages enforcement of Shariah and setting up of Islamic courts within 4-6 months in the troubled region.
"An agreement has been reached between the provincial government and TNSM chief Maulana Sufi Mohammad," NWFP Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti told media persons in Peshawar.
He said the move had an "in-principle" approval of the Pakistan president, Asif Ali Zardari.
The announcement follows the declaration of a 10-day ceasefire by the Pakistani Taliban in the Swat valley. Several past deals with militants have failed and have been criticised by the United States as giving time to militants to re-group.
The Taliban militants have been brutally enforcing Shariah law in the region, torching girls' schools and attacking government buildings, courts and security forces.
The Nizam-e-Adal regulations or Islamic laws will be enforced in Swat and Malakand districts after peace is restored in the region, officials said. Under the agreement, troops will remain in the Swat valley but will act only if fired upon, Hoti said, hoping the people will shun militancy and co-operate with the government to restore peace in the area.
"All political parties that participated in a jirga or tribal council on Monday had backed the move to introduce Islamic laws in Swat and Malakand. The government and relief agencies will soon move into the violence-hit areas to help rehabilitate people, and the change will not violate the Constitution of the Pakistan," Hoti said.
The NWFP information minister, Mian Iftikhar Hussain told media persons that all laws against Shariah will be abolished and Islamic laws will be enforced under the new system.
The agreement will cover Malakand, a part of NWFP that includes the Swat valley, he said.
Hoti said Sufi Mohammad, the father-in-law of Maulana Fazlullah, the Taliban commander in Swat, will soon travel to the region to work for peace.
The Taliban in Swat on Sunday announced a 10-day ceasefire to facilitate talks between the TNSM and the provincial government. Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan said if the ceasefire brings the implementation of Shariah, they will fully co-operate with it.
Hundreds of people have died in fierce fighting in Swat since the troops launched an offensive against Fazlullah's fighters in October 2007. A peace pact signed by the Taliban and the NWFP government in May last year collapsed within months.
Observers have said that the secular Awami National Party government in NWFP has given in to the demands of the Taliban after the militants targeted workers and leaders of the party and carried out a series of target killings.
Government employees, policemen and people accused of indulging in "un-Islamic" activities have been publicly executed by the militants. The Taliban also banned girls' education and destroyed nearly 200 schools and barred women from visiting markets.
Swat, located about 160 km from Islamabad, was a popular tourist destination till about two years ago. The Taliban now controls most parts of the scenic valley and Fazlullah has waged a violent campaign to enforce Taliban-style Shariah law, prompting thousands of people to leave the region.