Pakistan's Rocky Peace Hits Bump

A pro-Taliban cleric has pulled out of a fragile peace accord between the Pakistani government and Taliban militants in western Pakistan.

Sufi Mohammad expressed his frustration with the peace process, stating that the government's promise to implement Islamic law, or sharia, in the Swat Valley had not been fulfilled.

The deal, brokered in February, had prompted a cease-fire, halting more than a year of bloodshed in the embattled Swat Valley, a one-time tourist haven, dubbed the Switzerland of the East by various travel guides.

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari has agreed to allow the practice of sharia law in Swat on the condition that law and order is first restored in the region. Muhammad, who had been camped out in the valley's main town of Mingora with hundreds of black-turbaned supporters, uprooted Thursday in protest of Zardari's "negative attitude."

"From now on, President Zardari will be responsible for any situation in Swat," the white-bearded cleric told reporters. "The provincial government is sincere, and our agreement with the provincial government is intact, but we are ending our peace camp."

Militants rearmed and pushed into a neighboring area this week 60 miles northwest of Islamabad, where they clashed with villagers and police.

One Swat-based reporter, speaking today on the condition of anonymity, said, "There is a lot of uncertainty and fear among residents since this announcement happened," adding, "things were much better for the past few weeks since this deal took place, so it is terrible to think that fighting may return to this area."

The heat is now on Pakistan's government to find a solution to its militant problem before it threatens to destabilize the nuclear-armed state.

Suspected militants ambushed a convoy in the northwest's Kurram tribal agency this week, killing a security guard and wounding six other people, including the area's top government official. Militants also planted a bomb in Khyber Agency that destroyed six tankers supplying fuel to NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

Calls for Sharia Law in Swat

"Right now, there are so many terrorists, al Qaeda based people, there are so many bombs and mortar holes in Swat," said Rayat Allah Khan, the director of the Female Human Rights Organization for Swat. "There is so much ammunition in the valley that threatens to destroy the entire area."

Until its unification with Pakistan in 1969, the Swat Valley had observed its own tribal system of governance.

Longtime calls for a return to a sharia-based system as an alternative to Pakistan's drawn-out federal legal proceedings may have contributed to the rise of jihadist preacher Maulana Fazlullah, the son-in-law of Sufi Mohammed, and the valley's subsequent Talibanization, mirroring that of nearby Afghanistan.

Once a hot spot for tourists from around the world, women have been banned from walking the streets of much of the region in recent years. Hundreds of girls' schools have been blown up by militants who regard female education as un-Islamic.

Hinna Khan, 14, was among the girls forced to stay home after Taliban militants banned on female education. She claims that militants would patrol the streets of her town, threatening to throw acid in the faces of young girls who tried to attend classes. Her family fled to Islamabad last year so that she and her three younger sisters could live in safety.

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