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Militants suspend peace deal in Pakistan’s restive valley


Peshawar (Pakistan) : Pro-Taliban militants in the restive valley of Swat have said that they intended severing all contacts with the Pakistani government, accusing it of delaying the implementation of last month’s peace agreement.

“Our shura (council) of senior Taliban leaders which held its meeting Monday have decided to end all contacts with the government for one week. We are going to switch off our telephones right now,” Muslim Khan, a Taliban spokesman, told DPA over phone from undisclosed location Tuesday night.

Islamic militants, under the leadership of firebrand cleric Maulana Fazlullah, launched a campaign in mid 2007 to enforce Taliban rule in Swat, previously a popular tourist destination located just 150 km from Pakistan’s capital.

Islamabad deployed army troops there last October to quell the rebellion, triggering clashes that left hundreds of people dead.

However, the new government of secular and liberal Awami National Party (ANP), that inflicted a crushing defeat on Islamist parties in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), opened peace talks with militants in March and signed an agreement with them May 21.

Under the accord, the government was supposed to implement Islamic law, carry out a phased withdrawal of troops from the region, release 75 prisoners within 15 days and build an Islamic University in place of a militants’ headquarter destroyed by military in Imamdheri area.

“We understand that enforcement of sharia and withdrawal of troops is a lengthy process, but the government should have released the prisoners in time,” said Khan.

He said the NWFP provincial government was serious in its efforts but it was helpless to the army and some other actors who were trying to create hurdles in the whole process. “Only eight prisoners have so far been released which is a clear violation of the agreement.”

“If there is no development on the issue within one week, Taliban leadership will decide in their next meeting on whether the peace accord should continue or not,” Khan warned.

A senior leader of ANP said no one was creating hurdles in the peace process and all actors were happy about it because it guaranteed stability in the region.

“The peace agreement will survive, I am sure. We will try to contact Taliban and address their complaints in the coming days,” said Afrasiab Khattak.

Peace negotiations with the Islamic rebels in Swat are being conducted under what the new government calls the revision of President Pervez Musharraf’s hard-handed policies.

A similar dialogue is also under way with Islamic extremists in the neighbouring tribal belt, which is believed to provide safe-havens for Al Qaeda and Taliban militants launching cross-border attacks on international forces in Afghanistan.

The country has in the past signed peace deals with militants but according to many analysts and Washington these have only given militants the opportunity to regroup and strike back with increased strength.

Pakistan has its reasons for signing peace deals. It has been hit by dozens of suicide attacks over the last one and a half years, leaving more than 4,000 people dead, creating an atmosphere that has adversely affected the struggling economy.