- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2009

UPDATED:

ISLAMABAD | Provincial officials and Islamic militants in the Swat Valley are negotiating a truce that would impose Shariah law in the former tourist region, militants said Sunday in announcing a 10-day pause in fighting.

A pending agreement would replace the present court system with Qazi (Islamic) courts, said Ezat Khan, a spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), or the Movement for the Implementation of Shariah. Mr. Khan said a deal could be announced as early as Monday.

“We demand Shariah implementation in Malakand. We demand the justice system shall be in accordance with the Koran and Sunna. The provincial government agreed to our demands,” Mr. Khan told The Washington Times. Sunna refers to the sayings and traditions of the prophet Muhammad.

The Malakand region, which includes the scenic Swat Valley, has been the scene of a lengthy government offensive against militants, who have imposed a harsh version of Shariah law that prohibits girls from attending school and requires women to spend most of their lives out of public view.

Bringing the region back under government control is a key challenge for Pakistan’s leaders, especially because Swat lies outside tribal areas in the North West Frontier Province and is supposed to be under full government control.

The provincial and federal governments negotiated a similar truce in May amid criticism from the United States. The truce quickly broke down, and critics charged it has been a ploy by militants to buy time to rearm.

TNSM is led by Sufi Muhammad, who was imprisoned in early 2002 for recruiting Pakistanis to battle American forces in Afghanistan. Mr. Muhammad was freed early this year after promising to give up violence.

Mr. Muhammad is not actively engaged in battles over Swat, but he has close links to Pakistani Taliban militants led by his son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah.

Arshad Abdullah, a provincial legal official, said the truce agreement would require the TNSM to convince fighters loyal to Mr. Fazlullah to give up violence.

When that happens, Mr. Abdullah told the Associated Press, existing laws governing the court system can be changed. “Our agreement is conditioned with peace,” he said. “They have to succumb to law. They have to put down their arms.”

Muslim Khan, a spokesman for Mr. Fazlullah’s fighters, said they will accept the deal negotiated with Mr. Muhammad.

Mr. Khan said militants had freed a Chinese engineer held captive for nearly six months as a good-will gesture on Saturday.

A militant commander, Maulana Khalil, announced the 10-day cease-fire on a pirate radio station operated by Mr. Fazlullah.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the government was only negotiating with groups that have renounced violence.

“We are not compromising with militants, instead trying to isolate the militants, and for that I do not think America will have any objection,” he said.

Attacks on foreigners have become common.

U.N. officials told the AP on Sunday that they were still trying to establish contact with the kidnappers of one of their American employees, seized Feb. 2 in the southwest city of Quetta. On Friday, the kidnappers of John Solecki threatened to kill him within 72 hours and issued a 20-second video of the blindfolded captive.

Militants released a video earlier this month purportedly showing the beheading of a Polish geologist. If confirmed, it would be the first killing of a Western hostage in Pakistan since American journalist Daniel Pearl was killed in 2002.

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