ISLAMABAD: Taliban militants in Pakistan’s Swat Valley have extended their grip to a neighboring northwest district, officials said yesterday, patrolling roads and broadcasting radio sermons in the latest sign that a government-backed peace deal has actually emboldened the extremists.
Pakistan’s president signed off on the peace pact last week in hopes of calming Swat, where some two years worth of clashes between the Taliban and security forces have killed hundreds and displaced up to a third of the one-time tourist haven’s 1.5 million residents.
The agreement covers roughly one-third of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, a strategic stretch along the Afghan border and the tribal areas where Al-Qaeda and the Taleban have strongholds. Under the deal, the provincial government agreed to impose Islamic law, and the Taleban agreed to a cease-fire.
Supporters say the deal will allow the government to reassert control. However, critics, including the White House, have slammed it as an affront to democracy and human rights, and say it hands Islamist insurgents a sanctuary. The critics also have warned that Swat could be the first domino to fall to the Taliban – and that Islamabad, capital of the nuclear-armed nation less than 160 kilometers away, could eventually follow.
In recent days, the Swat militants have set their sights on adjoining Buner distric. Istiqbal Khan, a lawmaker from Buner, told According to reports, militants had entered the district in “large numbers” and started setting up checkpoints at main roads and strategic positions.
“They are patrolling in Buner, and local elders and clerics are negotiating with them to resolve this issue through talks,” he said. The militants in Buner also are using radio airwaves to broadcast sermons about Islam, and have occupied the homes of some prominent landowners, said a police official who insisted on anonymity because he was afraid of retaliation.
The militants have established a major base in the village of Sultanwas and have set up positions in the nearby hills, the police official said. Militants also have taken over the shrine of a famed Sufi saint known as Pir Baba, he said.
Opposition is building among Pakistani politicians and media to a peace deal aimed at ending Taleban violence in the region. Critics said the approval of Shariah law in the valley was akin to appeasing the militants. “They are now threatening to get out of Swat and take other areas into their custody. So we’ve got to avoid that situation,” former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in an interview with USA Today on Tuesday.
Sharif said any deal with militants should include commitments that “democracy will not be allowed to deteriorate and the writ of the government will be honored.”-Arab News