Islamabad, April 10 (IANS) The ratification of a peace deal signed with the Taliban in the Swat Valley is directly linked to restoring peace in the area, a Pakistani minister said Friday, a day after a radical cleric who had brokered the deal upped the ante on its implementation.
Talking to reporters outside parliament, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said President Asif Ali Zardari would accede to the pact only after Taliban militants laid down their arms.
The deal provides for imposing Sharia laws in Swat and six other districts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) once peace returns to the area, where the writ of the Taliban largely runs.
The president’s approval is necessary because the provincial government cannot amend its laws without his nod.
Rehman’s appeal cut little ice with cleric Maulana Sufi Mohammad, who warned his Tehrik-e-Nifaz e Shariah-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) would begin a ‘long march’ to Islamabad April 20 if the Sharia laws were not imposed by then.
According to Sufi Mohammad, peace would return to the area only after the Sharia laws came into force.
On Thursday, the cleric had shut down his peace camp in Swat, sparking fears that he could be preparing to walk out of the pact.
The peace deal was inked Feb 16 between the NWFP government and the TNSM, which is aligned to the Taliban.
Sufi Mohammad had subsequently held talks with local Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah, who is also his son-in-law, on the militants laying down their arms.
The cleric told reporters in Swat Thursday that the NWFP government was sincere in implementing the pact but the federal government was dragging its feet on ratifying the accord.
He maintained that peace could not return to the region unless Sharia laws were in place.
Zardari, who had given the go-ahead for the deal, has said he would ratify it only if peace returned to the area.
The president, however, has been under immense pressure to turn down the deal, particularly after the emergence last week of a video depicting a 17-year-old girl publicly receiving 38 lashes over an alleged illicit relationship. Though the incident was denied, it sparked universal outrage.
The deal with the Taliban had attracted international condemnation as it was seen to be bowing to the militants.
Protracted fighting between the Pakistani security forces and the Taliban has forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee Swat. Estimates vary, but human rights monitors believe that up to 800,000 of the valley’s 1.8 million people may have left.