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Taliban Militants Extend Cease-Fire in Pakistan's Swat Valley


Pakistani Taliban militants in the country's troubled Swat valley say they are indefinitely extending a cease-fire with the government. Swat Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah is expected to soon announce the terms of the cease-fire.

Residents of Swat valley have welcomed an end to months of heavy fighting between an estimated 3,000 militants and more than 10,000 Pakistani troops.

A 24-year-old student from Swat's Kanju village, who declined to be identified because the situation is still tense, tells VOA that private schools for both boys and girls near him have reopened and people are again shopping in the markets. He says public schools should reopen next week after the end of winter break.

"The situation is not perfect like the past. But the people are satisfied - the people have suffered so much death they consider this situation a blessing. There are still kidnappings and murders going on, but the situation will be soon better inshallah."

In recent months Taliban militants had taken control of much of the valley, killing outspoken residents and blowing up schools accused of serving as army outposts.

While locals have praised the lull in fighting, it remains unclear how the proposed agreement could change their lives or if it will successfully put an end to hostilities.

The tentative agreement, orchestrated by militant leader Sufi Muhammed, recommends fundamental changes in the justice system of the Malakand region in the North-West Frontier Province where Swat is located. The government would sanction courts that carry out proceedings in accordance with Islamic law.

Sufi Muhammad has long advocated implementing strict Islamic codes, called Sharia, in Pakistan. Other militant groups in the northwest have opposed education for girls, but the current proposal appears to mainly focus on changing the justice system.

Some analysts have worried the agreement could implicitly sanction the Taliban's takeover of Swat, further expanding Taliban-held territory in Pakistan's embattled northwest.

Former chief secretary of the North West Frontier Province Khalid Aziz says the proposed agreement has a slightly better chance of succeeding than a similar one that failed to stop fighting in Swat last May.

He says that is mainly because Sufi Muhammed, who is acting as the broker in the talks, carries significant authority among militants.

"This agreement has a better potential than the last one," Aziz said. "However, we have already had some interventions, which shows the militants have as yet not accepted the authority of Sufi Muhammed completely."

Aziz cited the shooting of a Pakistan journalist last week and the brief detention of the new top government official to Swat by Taliban fighters as evidence that Maulana Fazlullah's fighters may still be reluctant to halt their offensive.



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