Taliban fighters have declared an indefinite ceasefire in Pakistan's tumultuous Swat valley following an agreement by the authorities, on the enforcement of Islamic sharia law in the region, that is likely to stir criticism from Western countries.
Pakistani Taliban militants announced an indefinite ceasefire in the Swat valley in the northwest of the country on Tuesday, a day after the army said it was ceasing operations in the region.
The ceasefire, following an agreement by the authorities on the enforcement of Islamic sharia law in the valley, is likely to compound concerns among Western countries, which fear a truce will create another militant sanctuary in Pakistan.
Militants in Swat, which until 2007 was one of Pakistan’s prime tourist destinations, had already announced a 10-day truce after a radical cleric, Maulana Sufi Mohammad, struck a deal with authorities on the enforcement of sharia law.
That temporary truce has been made permanent, said a Taliban spokesman in the valley, 120 km (75 miles) northwest of Islamabad.
“We have agreed on an indefinite ceasefire,” said the spokesman, Muslim Khan.
Khan said the Taliban in the valley, led by Sufi Mohammad’s militant son-in-law, Fazlullah, also decided to release three people, including two politicians, as a “goodwill gesture”.
The militants had virtually taken over control of the entire valley in recent months, residents said, killing their enemies and blowing up schools, which they said the security forces were using as outposts.
NO MILITANT SANCTUARY
The army said on Monday it had ceased operations against militants in the valley and said there would be no sanctuary
for militants there if the writ of the state was re-established.
The United States and other Western countries have been pressing Pakistan for years to eliminate militant sanctuaries, especially in areas along the Afghan border from where Taliban infiltrate into Afghanistan.
Fighting flared in Swat in late 2007 after hundreds of militants infiltrated from Afghan border enclaves to support Fazlullah and his drive to introduce hardline Islamist rule.
The military said this year about 1,500 militants had been killed in fighting since last August. There was no independent verification of that estimate.
The government said this month 1,200 civilians had been killed in violence in the valley since 2007 and the human rights group Amnesty International said between 200,000 and 500,000 people had been displaced.
Militants in the neighbouring Bajaur tribal region on the Afghan border to the west of Swat also announced a unilateral ceasefire on Monday.
Militants in Bajaur had been told to approach the authorities to discuss the modalities of a ceasefire including the laying down of their arms, said military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas.
Date created : 2009-02-24