Indefinite ceasefire declared in Pakistan's Swat valley
Pro-Taliban militants today declared an indefinite ceasefire and vowed to release prisoners in Pakistan's Swat valley, where they have fought for nearly two years to enforce sharia law. The announcement came eight days after the government signed a controversial deal to accept Islamic law as the only system of justice in Swat, a former tourist resort and barely a morning's drive from the capital Islamabad.Updated: Feb 24, 2009 14:17 IST
Pro-Taliban militants on Tuesday declared an indefinite ceasefire and vowed to release prisoners in Pakistan's Swat valley, where they have fought for nearly two years to enforce sharia law.
The announcement came eight days after the government signed a controversial deal to accept Islamic law as the only system of justice in Swat, a former tourist resort and barely a morning's drive from the capital Islamabad.
The deal provoked alarm in the United States, Europe, Afghanistan and India, where governments are worried it will embolden militants in the North West Frontier Province, which is rife with Taliban and Al-Qaeda extremists.
Militant leader Maulana Fazlullah convened a consultative council on Tuesday and agreed to extend a 10-day ceasefire, which had been scheduled to expire on Wednesday, and release prisoners, his spokesman Muslim Khan told AFP.
"Today the shoora met under Maulana Fazlullah and decided to hold a ceasefire for an indefinite period," Khan said.
His supporters observed a temporary truce since last Monday, when the government signed a controversial deal with pro-Taliban cleric Soofi Mohammad to enforce sharia law in Swat in an effort to end Fazlullah's insurgency.
No date has been announced for when sharia law would take effect. It is also not clear how the system, which supporters say will be faster than the penal courts, will be implemented or who will be responsible for justice.
"We are releasing all prisoners unconditionally. Today we released four paramilitary soldiers and we will release all security personnel in our custody as a goodwill gesture," Khan vowed.
"The meeting expressed satisfaction over the efforts being made by Maulana Soofi Mohammad for the enforcement of sharia," he said.
Fazlullah will "announce important decisions" on his illegal FM radio station late Tuesday, his spokesman added.
The militant leader said over the weekend that the ceasefire would be made permanent provided his militants were convinced of government assurances.
Thousands of Fazlullah's supporters have spent nearly two years waging a terrifying campaign to enforce sharia law in Swat, beheading opponents, bombing girls' schools, outlawing entertainment and fighting government forces.
Past peace deals between the government and militants have collapsed.
The brief kidnapping on Sunday of an official and six bodyguards in Swat, which before Fazlullah began his bloody uprising was Pakistan's only ski resort frequented by Westerners, raised concerns about the radicals' intentions.
Muslim, who initially denied any kidnapping, later said district coordination officer (DCO) Khushhal Khan and six guards had been taken to send a message to the government that it should not violate the agreement.
All boys' and some girls' schools reopened in Swat on Monday, a week earlier than the usual end of the winter holidays, but attendance was extremely low -- at least partly due to ongoing security fears.
Militants have destroyed 191 schools in the valley, including 122 girls' schools, according to local education official Sher Azfal.
First Published: Feb 24, 2009 12:12 IST