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Asia-pacific

Radical cleric who brokered Swat deal with Taliban is arrested

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-07-27

Moulana Sufi Mohammad, a radical cleric who made a deal with the Taliban to introduce Sharia law in Swat Valley in exchange for a ceasefire, has been arrested in Peshawar, officials say. The peace deal failed after renewed fighting.

AFP - Pakistan on Monday was holding in custody the hardline cleric who brokered a failed peace deal that put three million people under sharia law but was shattered by renewed Taliban fighting.
   
Maulana Sufi Mohammad, father-in-law of the Taliban cleric who masterminded a two-year uprising that ravaged the once idyllic northwest Swat valley beloved by Western tourists, was arrested Sunday on the outskirts of Peshawar.
   
"Sufi Mohammad has been arrested along with his three sons in order to maintain public order," Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), told AFP.
   

"His actions so far indicate he still has close ties to the Taliban of Swat. We contacted him four days ago and advised him to stop his activities... (which) showed he was interested in killing people again," Hussain said.
   
"Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik has set up a special committee, which will interrogate him for his trial," the official added.
   
Pakistan earlier released Mohammad from a six-year jail term for leading thousands of supporters across the border into Afghanistan to fight against US-led troops who overthrew the Taliban regime in Kabul in 2001.
   
Although it has never been clear how much influence Mohammad yields over his son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah, the elderly cleric brokered a deal to put the three million residents of the wider northwest Malakand region under Islamic law.
   
Sharia law was the key demand of Fazlullah's uprising. An initial ceasefire accompanied the February 16 deal -- widely criticised in the West and at home -- but his group refused to disarm as demanded by the government.
   
When armed Taliban fighters advanced from Swat into the district of Buner, 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Islamabad, Pakistan launched a massive offensive under US pressure to crush Islamists considered a major threat.
   
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said this month that the military had "eliminated" extremists and the government has sent back around 400,000 of 1.9 million civilians who were displaced by the fighting.
   
But deadly skirmishes have continued, raising fears that the Taliban merely escaped into the mountains and regrouped, as they have done after previous offensives.
   
Mohammad's arrest came two days after the Taliban denied government claims that Fazlullah was wounded, and threatened to unleash renewed holy war.
   
Pakistan slapped down a 615,000-dollar reward for Fazlullah, captured dead or alive, and 15 of his top lieutenants, but so far none of them has been confirmed arrested or killed since the latest offensive was launched in April.
   
Fazlullah led thousands of supporters, a mixture of hardcore ideologues and disenfranchised young men, in a brutal campaign that beheaded opponents, burned scores of schools and fought against government troops since November 2007.
   
His rebellion marked the only time that a district under government control effectively fell into Taliban hands in Pakistan, which US President Barack Obama has put at the heart of the global fight against Islamist militants.
   
The NWFP information minister accused Mohammad of trying to return to Malakand, which would have "disturbed" law and order in the precarious region, which includes Swat, Buner and Dir where the offensive was concentrated.
   
"He convened a meeting of his party's executive body on Saturday and Sunday in Peshawar. Convening a meeting of his banned organisation was clearly intended to create hurdles in peace efforts," Hussain told AFP.
   
"We released him (earlier this year) for the sake of peace and we arrested him again now for the sake of peace," he said.
   
Pakistan says more than 1,800 militants and 166 security personnel have been killed since April but the death tolls are impossible to verify independently.
 

Date created : 2009-07-26

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