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Sharia courts open in Pakistan's Swat

Sharia courts open in Pakistan's Swat

Author: AFP
Publication: Google News
Date: March 19, 2009
URL: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5ggEYnrkX0cP5W3z1e4L4s2SJZPZQ

Islamic courts have started work in Pakistan's Swat valley under a controversial deal that the government hopes will end two years of bitter fighting, officials said Wednesday.

Last month's agreement to implement sharia in the former ski resort triggered alarm around the world fearful it would embolden militants throughout the northwest, which is a hotbed for Taliban and Al-Qaeda extremists.

"Seven qazis (judges) have started working in sharia courts in Swat," said regional commissioner Syed Mohammad Javed.

"Nothing against sharia will be allowed," he said. Courts began hearing cases under Islamic law on Tuesday.

The judges, all qualified in Islamic law, were approved by pro-Taliban cleric Soofi Mohammad, who signed the deal with the government on February 16 and who is the father-in-law of firebrand militant leader Maulana Fazlullah.

Thousands of acolytes of Fazlullah spent nearly two years waging a terrifying campaign to enforce sharia law in the area, beheading opponents, bombing girls' schools, outlawing entertainment and fighting government forces.

Muslim Khan, a spokesman for Fazlullah, welcomed the development.

Ameer Izzat Khan, a spokesman for Mohammad, said: "It is the result of a two-year struggle. We are thankful to Allah. Our aim is to impose Allah's system on Allah's earth."

"An appeal court will also start functioning soon, the government has assured us," Khan added.

Provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said the courts had been set up under a 1990s regulation and that amendments were awaiting official approval by President Asif Ali Zardari.

The minister said that once peace and order was restored fully to Swat, government troops would be pulled out, although residents say most of the valley has effectively fallen into the hands of the Taliban.

"When government writ is established, the military would be phased out gradually," Hussain said.

Despite the fragile ceasefire, acts of violence have continued. Two soldiers were killed on March 3 after Taliban militants accused them of violating the agreement, and suspected Islamists kidnapped two local officials.

Hussain said nearly 200 schools destroyed or damaged during the fighting had been given tents so classes could resume.

Senior cabinet minister Bashir Bilour said sharia courts would soon be extended to six more districts of Malakand, the wider region around Swat.

"The president has assured us he will sign the regulation. Qazi appointments have been made and six more districts of Swat will have sharia courts," Bilour said. Swat, a former princely state, was only absorbed into Pakistan 1969.

But the agreement has sparked anger among lawyers elsewhere in the country who have just secured a government promise to reinstate chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, two years after he was dismissed under emergency rule.

"The establishment of sharia courts in Swat is a dangerous precedent, which has put our judicial system at serious risk," said Rashid Razvi, a top lawyer.

"The qazis (judges) who run these courts are simply clerics who have no knowledge of laws and training on how to run a court," he added.

Analysts say higher courts have lost their writ in Swat.

"The Swat courts have scrapped the writ of the superior courts in that region," said Tauseef Ahmed Khan, a professor at Urdu University Karachi.

"Chaudhry should make this issue a priority and abolish sharia courts."


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