The main brokers of the controversial peace deal in Pakistan's Swat
valley say they are leaving the region in protest because the federal
government has still not signed the agreement. Provincial officials insist the deal is
The provincial government in Pakistan's
northwest signed the peace agreement with hard-line cleric Sufi
Mohammad in February, ending major fighting in the region between the
army and Taliban militants. In exchange for peace, provincial officials
agreed to implement Islamic law in the Malakand district through
government-sanctioned Islamic courts.
Since then, Sufi Mohammad
and his supporters have remained in Swat to oversee the implementation
of the court system. But Ameer Izzat, Sufi Mohammad's spokesman,
announced Thursday that the group is leaving the valley in protest.
says we have decided to leave this area, because despite promises, the
government is not taking practical steps to implement the peace deal.
He says the federal government is responsible for whatever consequences
Critics say the agreement implicitly sanctions the
Taliban's takeover of a region some 100 kilometers from Islamabad,
further undermining government authority. And although provincial
government officials have insisted the deal would not lead to a further
expansion of Taliban power, this week militants in Swat attacked the
neighboring district Buner, killing at least five people.
leader of a lashkar or tribal militia in Buner tells VOA that they are
now trying to negotiate with the militants to keep them out of their
He says people worry that if the Taliban come into the district, it could lead to more intense fighting with the army.
peace deal was aimed at breaking a violent stalemate between the army
and the militants in the scenic valley. During months of fighting,
scores of civilians have been killed in the crossfire.
Pakistani scholars say peace deal will further harm country's legal system
cease-fire has largely held, the peace agreement has lost support in
Islamabad. Newspaper editorials, legal scholars and human rights
activists have urged President Asif Zardari not to sign it, arguing it
would significantly harm Pakistan's already embattled legal system and
further erode government authority in the region.
past week criticism of the situation has intensified following the
broadcast of a video appearing to show Taliban fighters in Swat
publicly beating a young woman.
The grainy video broadcast
widely on Pakistani television networks shows three men pinning a
burqa-clad woman face-down on the ground. In front of a crowd of male
onlookers, a fourth man beats her more than 30 times with a heavy strap
as she cries out in pain.
circumstances, location and date of the video remain in dispute. But
human rights activists say the victim is a 17-year-old girl who was
punished for refusing to marry a Swat Taliban commander. Much of the
public outcry has focused on the girl shown being punished in public, instead of inside her home.
Swat Taliban leaders say video is fake
When the video surfaced last week, Swat Taliban leader Muslim Khan at first took responsibility in an interview with VOA.
says there is no other authority in this area to execute punishments,
so without doubt these were Taliban. He says this was filmed during a
war-time situation and it was necessary to punish her publicly.
next day Muslim Khan recanted, joining other militant spokesmen and
sympathetic political parties in denouncing the video as a fake. They
claim it is a ploy by human rights activists to discredit the Taliban
and undermine the Islamic courts.
Even provincial government
officials involved with the Swat peace deal have been critical of the
video and its possible impact on the treaty.
activists say far worse abuses have occurred in Swat during the past
year, but those weren't captured on video and broadcast across the
country, vividly bringing the situation into people's homes.
is a campaign of disinformation that this is probably an exaggeration
by those who are Western-minded, by those who are liberal," said lawyer Asma Jahangir, one of Pakistan's leading human rights activists and a long time legal advocate for battered women. "But actually
seeing it for yourself - followed by admissions by the Taliban leader
and spokesman himself - really did shake our people. And I think there
is always an incident which really brings people back from a stupor and
this is one of them."
Head of the Peshawar Bar Association says situation remains dire
Earlier this week
Pakistan's newly returned Supreme Court Chief Justice took up the
issue, sharply criticizing officials for not investigating the beating
video more thoroughly. Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry demanded federal
officials provide clarity on the situation in Swat. Outside the court,
the head of the Peshawar Bar Association, Abdul Latif Afridi, told
reporters the situation remains dire.
says this issue is not about one girl or one person's rights - it is
about the lack of government authority and security for residents. He
says after the army was unable to establish peace in Swat, people are
worried if anything will be able to.