Central & South Asia
Swat cleric sets sharia deadline
Cleric threatens fresh protests unless Islamic courts are established by March 15.
Last Modified: 01 Mar 2009 12:50 GMT
The Taliban declared a ceasefire after the government agreed to introduce sharia in Swat [Reuters]

Sufi Muhammad, the Muslim cleric acting as a peacemaker in northwestern Pakistan's restive Swat valley,  has threatened to launch fresh protests unless Islamic courts are established in the region within two weeks.

Muhammad, who was instrumental in bringing about a ceasefire between the government and the Taliban, also demanded on Sunday that both sides release prisoners they were holding.

The provincial government of the North West Frontier Province had agreed to introduce sharia, or Islamic law, as part of the peace deal.

But Muhammad, who heads the Tehrik-e-Nifaz Shariat Muhammadi group, said the government was procrastinating over the implementation of sharia, and that he had yet to see the government take "practical steps" to establish the Islamic courts.

'Harmful to peace'

"We also asked the government to implement Nifaz-e-Adl [a system of Islamic justice] by March 15 after which we will launch a protest," Muhammad told a news conference in Mingora, the main town in the valley. 

In depth

Swat: Pakistan's lost paradise

Sharia in Pakistan's Swat

Muhammad also set a March 10 deadline for the release of prisoners.

Maulana Fazlullah, Muhammad's son-in-law and leader of the Taliban in Swat, said on Saturday on illegal FM radio that the government's reluctance to release captured fighters was harmful to peace efforts.

Taliban fighters had released seven men after the agreement.

Taliban fighters, who control much of the valley, declared an indefinite ceasefire on Tuesday and the Pakistan army said it was suspending operations.

Fighting in Swat began in late 2007 after hundreds of fighters infiltrated from Afghan border enclaves to support the Taliban and their drive to introduce Islamic rule.

At least 1,200 civilians have been killed in the violence.

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