Friday, March 6, 2009

A volatile truce for troubled Swat valley

Pakistan | The government's pact with Taliban militants in the Swat valley has not stopped the killing. And along with the violence, the door has swung open to the Taliban's imposition of harsh religious rule over the valley.

Pakistani student Tariq Khan walks past a painting in a classroom of a school allegedly blown up by Islamic militants in Mingora, capital of the troubled Swat valley. Taliban militants in the valley have extended a cease-fire, strengthening a peace process that Western governments say risks granting a safe haven to extremists close to the Afghan border.
Pakistani student Tariq Khan walks past a painting in a classroom of a school allegedly blown up by Islamic militants in Mingora, capital of the troubled Swat valley. Taliban militants in the valley have extended a cease-fire, strengthening a peace process that Western governments say risks granting a safe haven to extremists close to the Afghan border.

The Taliban and the Pakistani army signed a truce in February in Swat, the once-popular tourist area an hour north of the capital. But far from establishing peace, the pact seems to have allowed the Taliban free rein to expand their harsh religious rule.

Just days after the truce was signed, a member of a prominent anti-Taliban family returned to his mountain village, having received government assurances it was safe. He was promptly kidnapped by the Taliban, tortured and murdered.

The rebels then erected roadblocks to search cars for any relatives who dared travel there for his funeral. None did.

This week, two Pakistani soldiers who were part of a convoy escorting a water tanker were shot and killed because they failed to inform the Taliban in advance of their movements.

Wednesday, the provincial government signed an accord with the local Taliban leader that imposes Islamic law, or Shariah, in the area, and institutes a host of new regulations, including a ban on music, a requirement that shops close during calls to prayer and the installation of complaint boxes for reports of anti-Islamic behavior.

Local residents are skeptical that girls' schools will be allowed to reopen.

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