Pakistan-Taliban Peace Deal Shocks and Worries West

Some residents of volatile region see deal as only way to make home safe.

ByABC News
February 17, 2009, 3:22 PM

February 17, 2009— -- ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A man who once led 1,000 fighters across the border to fight U.S. troops in Afghanistan was welcomed like a hero in Pakistan's Swat valley today, one day after he forged a peace deal between the local chapter of the Taliban and the regional government.

Sufi Muhammad arrived in the regional capital, Mingora, to speak to his radical son-in-law, the leader of the Taliban in Swat, a group that has largely taken over what was once the most developed section of Pakistan's northwest. Muhammad's 300-car motorcade was welcomed by people who lined the streets, yelling "Long live peace! Long live Islam!"

The peace deal has largely shocked and worried Western observers as well as many of Pakistan's intelligentsia, who view it as an abdication of a former tourist site to a group that has cut off soldiers' heads, threatened women who dared shop alone and carried out a sustained assassination campaign against the local government.

But many residents of Swat, who have been suffering under those conditions for more than a year, see the deal as a relief and the best way to make their home safe again.

"I've come home after four months," Amjad Ali, a paramedic, told an ABC News reporter in Mingora today. "I want this deal to last so I never have to leave home and live a refugees' life any more."

The imposition of Islamic, or sharia law, in return for the military taking a defensive posture is seen largely in the West as an acceptance of a Afghanistan-style rule of law that bans female education. But the agreement seems to not include some of the more pernicious forms of sharia the local Taliban has enacted. Many residents of Mingora said they see this as a way to replace corrupt, slow courts with more efficient ones. And girls' schools are expected to be allowed to reopen.

The local government, the Awami National Party, largely saw the agreement as the only way to bring peace to the valley -- and one of the only ways to save what little popularity they currently have.