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Pakistan says won't tolerate Qaeda in sharia area

world Updated: Feb 26, 2009 09:24 IST

Pakistan's foreign minister has vowed that his government would not tolerate Al-Qaeda in its Swat Valley despite accepting a peace deal that includes imposition of Islamic sharia law.

The West has voiced fears that the scenic valley, just 160 kilometers from Pakistan's capital, will turn into a safe haven for militants much like nearby Afghanistan during the 1996-2001 reign of the Taliban.

But Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, in Washington for a three-way strategy review with the United States and Afghanistan, said the presence of Al-Qaeda in the Swat Valley was 'negligible if any.'

"The Taliban will not be in charge. The government of Pakistan will be in charge there. We are not compromising with the Taliban," Qureshi told PBS public television yesterday.

"We have pushed Al-Qaeda out ... Of Swat and we are going to drive them out of the tribal belt," he said.

The Pakistani government has accepted the ceasefire with Islamic militants in the Swat Valley who waged a bloody two-year campaign that included forcibly shutting girls' schools and curbing entertainment.

Qureshi said Pakistan wanted girls' schools to reopen but stood by his stance that the sharia deal was a local agreement aimed at better administering justice.

"What people have not understood is that we have taken the wind out of the sail of extremists," Qureshi said.