Authorities in Pakistan have agreed to introduce Islamic law in a restive northwestern region in a bid to stop a spreading Taliban insurgency.  Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has praised a peace deal with Taliban militants. Mr. Gilani told reporters Monday that the agreement will be beneficial for the country, and is in line with the government's policy of "dialogue, development and deterrence."  He said force is not the only way to deal with militancy.

Pro-Taliban extremist groups have long fought for Islamic law, called Sharia, to replace Pakistan's secular laws in the northwestern Malakand region that includes the Swat District, a militant stronghold.  

The mountainous Pakistani region has seen intense fighting between Taliban insurgents and security forces since 2007.  The violence has forced thousands of residents to flee to safer areas and Taliban militants have destroyed nearly 200 mostly girls' schools in the scenic valley as part of efforts to enforce their strict version of Islam that prohibits female education.

But provincial authorities said they have signed a peace deal with a leading outlawed pro-Taliban group in the region [Tehrike Nifaze Sharia Mohammadi] headed by Sufi Mohammad.  The agreement, they said, will lead to enforcement of the Islamic Sharia law in the area including Swat, once a tourist paradise.

Giving details of the deal at a news conference, Provincial Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti said the agreement has not been made under pressure from extremist forces and is not unconstitutional.

He defended the peace deal, saying that establishment of a separate judicial system in the area was long approved by the Pakistani parliament.

"Whatever we are giving them, there is not even a single section or provision which is against the basic fundamental rights and the liberties or against the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. This was the peoples' demand.  There was a problem there, there was a vacuum there and hopefully this would definitely work," he said.

Mr. Hoti said that the federal government and President Asif Ali Zardari have approved the deal under which, as he put it, all un-Islamic provisions in the existing legal system stand outlawed as a first step.

Militants have announced a 10-day unilateral cease-fire to pave the way for the peace agreement.  But the provincial chief minister said Pakistani troops will remain stationed in Swat and will respond if they come under attack.  

The peace deal in northwestern Pakistan was announced hours after missiles fired by a suspected unmanned U.S aircraft hit a militant hideout in a tribal region near the Afghan border.   

This was the second such strike in the past three days.  On Saturday, an alleged U.S drone attack killed at least 25 people in the South Waziristan tribal region.  Witnesses and tribesmen described most of the victims as local and foreign militants.