Wednesday, April 22, 2009

To struggle for the safety and survival of Pakistan

In order to save Pakistan from the danger and clutches of Talibanisation people of our entire country in general and Punjab in particular would have to come forward to play their roleWhole of the world is shouting and writing “Pakistan has gone”!
If our nuclear assets went into hands of Taliban then what would
happen-a mere thought of it sends shudder through the spine!
Telephonic address to the members of Defence Clifton Residence Committee and Youth Advisory Council.

London; 22 April, 2009

MQM leader Altaf Hussain has again pointed out that Pakistan is passing through an extremely critical phase of its existence and its very survival and integrity is at stake.
He said that it is extremely lamentable that despite Peace Deal terrorist activities of Taliban have increased manifold day by day and they are establishing their hold on the areas of Northern Part and NWFP of Pakistan but even then political and religious parties and their leaders were showing acute callousness and criminal neglect on their part, he passed these remarks while speaking over phone to members of Defence Clifton Residence Committee and Youth Advisory Council

He pointed out that Pakistan is passing through an extremely and very delicate phase of its existence and its very survival is in grave jeopardy and entire world is bellowing that our dear homeland Pakistan is about to crumble down in a few months

He said that by violating Peace Deal Taliban have gone ahead to establish their bunkers in Swat, Buner and other regions in Northern Areas and the Administration of these areas is absent due to growing fear of Taliban and their excesses.

He said that this is a matter of life and death for the entire country and nation that the entire world’s media is demonstrating that “Pakistan Gone” as this is a moment of gravest kind of emergency and serious thought and if Taliban’s occupation of one region after another coupled with their barbaric terrorist activities continued unabated and if our nuclear assets went into their control then what would happen??

He said MQM is striving very hard to its fullest and as long as it may strive and struggle but protecting geographical and ideological boundaries of Pakistan and to ensure its total safety and survival is not the duty and responsibility of MQM and Altaf Hussian exclusively

He said that in order to attain this very purpose of saving our dearest country of Pakistan, all and sundry would have to come forward and particularly intellectuals, columnists, poets, advocates as well as political, social and religious opinion leaders and people belonging to various walks of life in the Province of Punjab would have to play their due role and come forth to save Pakistan from imminent danger of Talibanisation hovering over our heads.

He further said that MQM will be organizing an Ulema and Religious Scholars convention in Punjab as it did in Karachi a few days ago by inviting all schools of thoughts so that people of Punjab could be familiarized with the negative and nefarious face of self-styled Shariah of Taliban, so-called Nizam-i-Adl Regulation and their terrorist and inhuman activities in the name of Islam.

Mr. Altaf Hussain while talking to DCRC and YAC members clarified that poor and middle class people of Karachi are performing their duties day and night according to (Chowkidari) neighborhood watch system and likewise people living in posh areas of Karachi must feel their responsibility of safety of their homes and play their due role in this connection by establishing collective alarm system in each street for the safety of people.

Mr. Altaf Hussain paid towering tributes to the members of DCRC and YAC for spreading the message of MQM by working day and night and further asked them to strive to create awakening of true consciousness in the masses.

In the end Altaf Hussain exhorted all patriotic Pakistanis and especially the members of Youth Advisory Council to get general public acquainted with the atrocities and day by day growing terrorism of Taliban by visiting people door to door and take full advantage of latest inventions and techniques of scientific media in order to get people aware of the mission and aims and objectives of the Movement of MQM and to get people alerted ,mobilized and organized through the proper use of such media related activities.

Terroro Czar: Sufi’s world ----- Editorial

THE uproar is understandable but should it really come as a surprise that Sufi Mohammad and his band of barbarians are opposed to all that we hold dear? Of course not. The position held by people who kill those who don’t subscribe to their point of view is diametrically opposed to that of all right-thinking persons.
From day one, the stance of these militants who murder in the name of religion has been all too clear. These people are savages, yet we don’t put them behind bars. Why? If we don’t have the wherewithal to take them on, we should admit as much and stop making ludicrous claims that the enemy will be defeated in due course.
Striking ‘deals’ with an enemy that is simply buying time won’t help either. Talibanisation is not just a threat, it is the reality today. Face it.Sufi Mohammad’s organisation, which is sympathetic to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, is interested less in matters of faith and more so in power in Pakistan. It is now clear that the Taliban will not stop until they have their way. And this is their prescription for Pakistan: a nation, armed with nuclear weapons, jerked back to a mediaeval age. A country where men without beards are flogged, and women killed if they choose to express themselves. That is where we are headed.
And one is wrong if one thinks this can’t happen in Pakistan. It can and it will unless we strike a decisive blow for the silent majority.We must resist this onslaught. Should we be surprised when Sufi Mohammad says that that the high courts and the Supreme Court are un-Islamic? Certainly not. Are we to register shock when he says that democracy is un-Islamic? Of course not. He is merely articulating what he and his followers have thought from day one.
Sufi Mohammad’s Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat Mohammadi, the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda are all committed to overthrowing the State of Pakistan. How many times do we have to say this? Their interest is not limited to enforcing — at gunpoint — Sharia law in Swat and the rest of Malakand. They want to take over all of Pakistan and subject each and every citizen to their brand of ‘justice’.
This government is ceding them territory and emboldening them to an extent where they will be able to dictate terms without fear. Fazlur Rehman of the JUI may say that Sufi Mohammad, a terrorist Mr Rehman supports despite being a member of parliament, speaks for himself. No, you are wrong Mr Rehman. He speaks for thousands of extremists who have no respect for the law. He is renouncing the constitution, which is perhaps tantamount to treason.We didn’t vote for this on Feb 18, 2008. We didn’t vote for barbarity in the garb of religiosity.

Pakistan giving up to militants: Hillary

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday she believed the Pakistani government was abdicating to the Taliban and other militants.

In a testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mrs Clinton warned that nuclear-armed Pakistan was becoming a ‘mortal threat’ to the world.

‘I think that the Pakistani government is basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists,’ Mrs Clinton said.

She was referring to a deal Pakistan concluded with the Taliban militants in Swat, which gives them complete control over the valley. On Tuesday, the militants also took over Buner, just 60 miles from Islamabad.

Mrs Clinton also urged Pakistanis, living both in and outside the country, to realise how terrorism threatened the very existence of their state.

‘Pakistan poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world,’ Mrs Clinton said.

‘And I want to take this occasion ... to state unequivocally that not only do the Pakistani government officials, but the Pakistani people and the Pakistani diaspora ... need to speak out forcefully against a policy that is ceding more and more territory to the insurgents.’

Mrs Clinton said the Pakistani government had to deliver basic services to its people or it would find itself losing ground to the Taliban, whose influence had spread in northern Pakistan and had raised concerns about the stability of the country.

‘The government of Pakistan ... must begin to deliver government services, otherwise they are going to lose out to those who show up and claim that they can solve people’s problems and then they will impose this harsh form of oppression on women and others,’ she said.

‘(We) cannot underscore the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan by the continuing advances now within hours of Islamabad that are being made by a loosely confederated group of terrorists and others who are seeking the overthrow of the Pakistani state,’ Mrs Clinton said.

‘I don’t hear that kind of outrage or concern coming from enough people that would reverberate back within the highest echelons of the civilian and military leadership of Pakistan,’ she said.

Congressman Howard Berman, the chairman of the committee, also raised serious concerns about the state of Pakistan.

‘In recent weeks, extremists based in the western border regions have turned their guns on the Pakistani state, launching dramatic suicide attacks in the population centres of Islamabad and Lahore,’ Mr Berman said.

‘Equally troubling, the Pakistani government has cut a deal with the extremists that overran the Swat Valley — the latest in a string of failed agreements that has only emboldened the radicals.’

Mrs Clinton said President Obama’s new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, unveiled in March, included a focus on flushing Al Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan and on boosting civilian efforts to build up both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Also on Wednesday, the top US military commander Admiral Michael Mullen arrived in Islamabad from Kabul for meetings with Pakistani officials.

Another US general, David Petraeus, told a Harvard forum on Tuesday that the ‘military situation in Afghanistan will probably deteriorate in the near term’. He said: ‘We do believe we can achieve progress, but it’s going to get worse before it gets better. ... There will be tough months ahead.’

Admiral Mullen told NBC news he was concerned about the prospect of both Afghanistan and Pakistan descending into chaos. ‘Pakistan — it’s a country that has nuclear weapons. My long-term worry is that descent ... should it continue, gives us the worst possible outcome there,’ he said.

The army must face up to Taliban

Daily Times
The majority opinion which not so long ago favoured the Nizam-e Adl Regulation (NAR) in Swat is now shifting away from a pro-Taliban stance and conceding that Pakistan might have to fight them as Pakistan’s own war after all. This has happened owing to developments that were predictable to the entire world but not to most Pakistanis because of a media bias. The Swat Taliban have finally said that they are not bound to honour the peace accord between the government and the TNSM cleric Sufi Muhammad. That puts paid to the NAR.

Sufi Muhammad was supposed to declare war against the Taliban if they did not abide by the NAR, but he has instead condemned the Constitution of Pakistan as an infidel institution. A kind of jihadi nepotism has overcome him as he refuses to see what his son-in-law Fazlullah is doing in Dir and Buner in violation of the accord. Indeed, the Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan has denounced those who criticise the Sufi’s “verdict” against democracy and insists that his brand of shariat will be applied throughout Pakistan, with jiziya (protection tax) imposed on non-Muslims. (Jiziya can be retrospective, amounting to crores of rupees, as happened in the case of the Sikh community in Orakzai.)

There’s more disquieting news. Like all Taliban, including some pro-Pakistan warlords like Maulvi Nazir, the Taliban spokesman has welcomed Al Qaeda and its leadership to the areas conquered by the Taliban and vowed to help such formerly state-backed jihadi organisations as Lashkar-e Tayba and Jaish-e Muhammad in addition to the “foreign” outfits such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, to consolidate their hold on Pakistan’s territory. The chief of the Lashkar is in protective custody and the Jaish chief has been made to “disappear” for the same reason — if they are visible, there may be pressure to extradite them.

The message is clear: the Taliban are linked to Al Qaeda and they are counting on such elements in Punjab to help them take their war down to other parts of Pakistan. When the Swat deal was being sewed up, only the MQM objected, but it was soon isolated in parliament when the National Assembly voted in favour of the NAR. The media-mujahideen acted in the same irresponsible manner in which they had acted during the Lal Masjid affair by siding with the Taliban over the videoed whipping of a 17-year-old girl. The Supreme Court added its bit by releasing the Lal Masjid cleric who immediately announced his resolve to spread the Taliban shariat in Pakistan.

Interior Adviser Mr Rehman Malik has growled ineffectually in reply and the advocate general in Peshawar has asserted that the High Court will exercise full authority over the qazi courts in Swat. But everyone knows that the advocate general will never go to Swat to say this and risk getting his head chopped off at a Mingora square. Mr Nawaz Sharif has expressed concern after his party kept saying it was not Pakistan’s war that the army was fighting against the Taliban. His refusal to morally support the PPP government earlier and his party’s rejection of an ISI briefing on the matter in a joint parliamentary session had actually made the army back off.

Finally, it is the army that has to step forward and face the Taliban. It has baulked so far because of adverse public opinion and an equally lethal media tilt. But now that the politicians are waking up to the danger and the media is increasingly disabused, the army must end its India-driven strategy and try to save Pakistan from becoming the caliphate of Al Qaeda. In fact, Islamabad has to reach an understanding with New Delhi over the matter in order to get the army to mobilise in the numbers required. However, if this is not done, the people will have to fight the war on their own. The MQM is asking the right question: what if the Taliban come and the army is not there to protect us?

Swat is the challenge staring us in the face. If we don’t accept it and fight the Taliban, then the world will have to come and fight it the way it thinks fit.

Sufi’s interpretation of Islam not sharia: PHCBA

PESHAWAR: Peshawar High Court Bar Association (PHCBA) passed a unanimous resolution on Wednesday rejecting the banned TNSM chief Sufi Mohammad’s version of Islam and terming it un-Islamic.

The PHCBA secretary general, Mohammad Essa Khan, held an emergency meeting here after Taliban’s threat to Shangla lawyers that they would be liable to be killed if they appear in regular courts.

The association also demanded that the provincial and federal governments provide full protection to the lawyers of Malakand Division, as they could not perform their duties in the presence of Taliban in the region.

“The government should call a national conference of all political parties, especially of religious parties, and explain its policy on Taliban Fatwas branding lawyers profession, democratic system and apex courts un-Islamic,” the PHCBA demanded through the resolution.

In his address to the meeting, Essa Khan condemned Taliban’s ban on lawyers attending of regular courts saying that there was no ban on lawyers’ profession in Islam rather it allowed the Muslims to have lawyers help in several matters of life.

He also urged the bar associations across the province to hold one-hour protest meetings in the barrooms daily to condemn the Taliban’s ban and threats to the lawyers. The PHCBA president, S M Attique Shah, said that today the Taliban were branding lawyers practice in Swat and Shangla districts un-Islamic and tomorrow they will ban lawyers practice in Buner and Dir districts and finally they will threaten the PHC lawyers not to appear in the regular courts. Shah said that to cope with the Taliban ban on lawyers and life threats to the Malakand agency lawyers, he would soon call a lawyers convention on the issue to press the government for safeguarding the lawyers’ profession and their lives.

Abdul Lateef Afridi, former president of PHCBA, said that after the enforcement of Nizam-e-Adl Regulation in Malakand Division the Taliban had to disarm and remain peaceful but they occupied 75 percent part of Buner district. “If the lawyers could run a successful movement for restoration of the deposed judges then they must also run a movement against the Taliban to safeguard the life of Malakand colleagues and their jobs,” Afridi said.

Afridi, who is also ANP leader, said that the ANP-led provincial government seemed helpless to counter the Taliban, as there were only 1600 policemen in the whole Malakand division out of which 131 had been killed, 800 left their duties and only less than 700 were in the field.

Barrister Bacha, woman lawyer Tehmina Kakakhel and Seth Tahir also criticized Sufi for terming regular courts un-Islamic. He said after enforcement of Nizam-e-Adl regulation, the Taliban were not interested in Sharia and wanted a parallel system in Malakand Division.

Pakistani Taliban advance beyond Swat

They have taken control of Buner next door and made forays into two more districts.
First they won control of Pakistan's Swat Valley. Then they easily took over Buner District next door. Now the Taliban appear to have set their sights on two more neighboring areas as they continue to drive deeper into Pakistan.
Some analysts say that, for the time being, the Taliban are likely restricted to rural areas in the northwest – it's unlikely, for example, that they could take over the nearest major city, Peshawar, where the provincial government of the North West Frontier Province is based.Still, the militants appear intent on expanding their influence. And in the NWFP over the past several weeks they have faced little resistance from either the populace or government security forces."If they stay in Buner longer they will continue their drive," says analyst Rifaat Hussain, of the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. "The fact they were able to take over so easily will encourage Taliban from other districts to do the same."
In Buner, where the Taliban consolidated their control this week, militants have begun patrolling bazaars, villages, and towns, according to a leading English-language daily newspaper, Dawn. For the past six days, they are reported to have been looting government and NGO offices for supplies and four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Leading politicians, bureaucrats, prominent businessmen, and judges have fled the area, says local reporter Abdur Rehman Abid. "The people of Buner feel they have been abandoned to God's will."

Taliban members have also set up checkpoints along Buner's borders with the districts of Mardan and Swabi and are making forays into those areas, Mr. Abid continues. Mardan lies southwest of Buner, toward Peshawar, and is home to NWFP Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti. Swabi borders Punjab Province, Pakistan's populous heartland.

The fall of Buner comes at a sensitive time for the government, which is trying to maintain a controversial peace deal with the Swat Taliban that was negotiated by hard-line cleric Sufi Mohammad. The government agreed to impose Nizam-e-Adl regulations, a form of Islamic law, or sharia, in the area if the Taliban stopped fighting their troops.

But since President Asif Ali Zardari and the National Assembly officially approved the deal last week, militants in Swat have declared that no other Pakistani courts have jurisdiction over the area and have refused to put down their guns.

On Sunday, Mohammad sparked further controversy nationwide when he declared at a rally in Mingora, the capital of Swat, that there is "no room for democracy" in Islam – raising concern that the Taliban aim to impose their interpretation of sharia well beyond the northwest.

"They are now threatening to get out of Swat and take other areas into their custody. So, we've got to avoid that situation," former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who has in the past gained popularity for his anti-American stances, told USA Today Tuesday.

Critics of the Swat agreement have called it "appeasement."

"If [the Taliban] manage to consolidate their influence here [in Buner] they will play the politics of falling dominoes," says Mr. Hussain, the analyst. "Sufi Mohammad made it clear in his speech – they are targeting the whole of Pakistan."

And if the government continues to make deals with the Taliban, Hussain continues, they may be tempted "to go for the jugular" and lay siege to the city of Peshawar.

But provincial legislators of the Awami National Party, which governs the NWFP, appear more keen on keeping the peace going.

"We will not lose hope. The peace in Ireland took 30 years; we're asking for 30 weeks," says Haji Adeel, senior vice president of the ANP. He says that the government has sent for eight platoons of Frontier Constabulary, a paramilitary force, to patrol Buner, but adds that the basic problem is the Taliban expect too much, too soon.

"They [the Taliban] don't understand we need time and money to meet their demands to create and staff sharia courts. Sufi Mohammad doesn't understand the way bureaucracy works."

He adds: "So far, the Taliban haven't kept to their side of the bargain. We were expecting everyone to lay down arms and live like decent and ordinary citizens, to act according to the rules."

Afghanistan: The First National Park

After decades of false starts, Afghanistan is creating its first national park, Band-e-Amir, encompassing a sprawling swath of rugged land surrounding a series of deep blue lakes in the mountains west of Kabul. The lakes sit behind natural travertine dams. The region was a popular destination for Afghans from the 1950s through the 1970s, but visits have largely ended with the string of wars and unrest since then. Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society, which helped the government with planning and surveys, say much of the park’s wildlife has been depleted, although the park is still home to wolves, wild sheep and goats, and the Afghan snow finch.

US seeks global support to defeat 'horrible' Taliban

WASHINGTON: The United States wants the international community to come together to defeat Taliban extremists in Pakistan engaged in "horrific practices" like cutting off the ears and noses of those opposed to them.

"It's horrific, the practices that the Taliban are engaged in," State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters Tuesday when asked to comment on a report in Washington Post about the situation in Pakistan.

"This is why it's so important for the international community to come together and to use all of our means to defeat these extremists," he said.

Wood Disagreed with an assessment that rather than getting weaker, the Taliban seem to be spreading, but acknowledged, "the Taliban are a very serious threat. There's no question about that."

"We are working with the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan to do what we can to counter these violent extremists... The administration is very clear in terms of how we're going to prioritize our efforts to defeat the Taliban, to strengthen both Afghanistan and Pakistan."

"It's not going to be an easy thing," Wood said. "But we think we have a strategy in place. We think we have buy-in from other partners in the international community."

The US, he said was "under no illusions of how difficult this is. But these people need to be defeated, and we're going to continue to work to do so."

"Russia is a very important ally in this, and Russia's very committed to defeating the Taliban as well," Wood said. "And they're working closely with the United States and other countries to try to do that."

Asked how the Taliban were able to spread so far, the spokesman said the Taliban had taken advantage of very difficult situations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"And what we have to do is try to strengthen civil society in these countries, extend governance outward in these countries so that it can be shown that the Taliban just don't have the support that they claim to have and that they do have in many cases," he said. "But it's going to take a lot of effort. But we're willing to make that effort."

Pentagon Commander Visits Afghanistan

FORWARD OPERATING BASE AIRBORNE, Afghanistan -- The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is reviewing a new community-based defense program recently started in an increasingly violent province on the doorstep of Kabul.

Adm. Mike Mullen visited Wardak province on Wednesday, where U.S. troops deployed for the first time this year. The program he's assessing draws volunteers from Afghan communities to defend their villages against militants.

''The early reviews are positive,'' Mullen told The Associated Press. ''We are in the beginning stages, and this is a pilot, and we chose Wardak because it is such a critical province, and that's why I came today to see how things are going on the ground.''

Mullen said that Wardak was ''critical for the security of Kabul.''

Earlier this month in Wardak, 240 Afghans -- a ragtag collection of farmers, students and other unemployed men -- completed three weeks of training for the Afghan Public Protection Force. Though the program is U.S.-funded, it is overseen by the Afghan Interior Ministry, which is responsible for the country's security forces.

The community-based force has echoes in the American military's efforts in Iraq to form alliances with Sunni Arab tribesmen. The Sunni militias helped turn the tide in Iraq, contributing to a dramatic reduction in violence, but friction has arisen between the militias and the Shiite-led government. There have been clashes in recent weeks.

Gen. David McKiernan, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, told the AP earlier this month that if the Wardak program is successful, the community defense initiative will be expanded to other parts of the country.

Mullen met with Wardak's governor Wednesday and gave a Purple Heart to Pfc. Edward Church, who was wounded by a February roadside bomb in neighboring Logar province. Church is with the 10th Mountain Division's 3rd Combat Brigade Team.

Mullen also congratulated the 10th Mountain troops for a successful transition to Afghanistan. The unit had first been scheduled to go to Iraq, but the U.S. has increased its focus on the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan in recent months.

President Barack Obama this year ordered 21,000 new troops to the Central Asian country to bolster the record 38,000 already there. Taliban and other militants have made a violent comeback the last three years after what appeared to be an initial defeat following the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.

India backing Balochistan Liberation Army: Malik

India backing Balochistan Liberation Army: Malik

ISLAMABAD :Advisor to prime minister on Interior, Rehman A. Malik on Wednesday informed the Upper House of the Parliament that India is backing the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) for fuelling insurgency in the province and creating unrest.

"BLA was raised and funded by Russia during Soviet-Afghan war when Pakistan was supporting Afghanis and now India is backing its activities," he said, winding up debate on an adjournment motion, to discuss the Balochistan situation emerging out of recent killing of three Baloch leaders in Turbat.

"BLA remained dormant since the Afghan war ended but it was reactivated after killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, whose grandson Barhamdagh Bugti has openly sought Indian and American support for independence of Balochistan in a recent interview," he added.

He said that Indian consulate in Iranian city, bordering Balochistan, was also involved in activities other than visa granting to people.

The BLA Chief Barhamdagh Bugti, in his recent interview to a Pakistani channel has openly sought Indian support for independence of Balochistan, he added.

"Barhamdagh Bugti is residing in Kabul just five kilometer away from President Karzai's palace and Pakistan has continuously been asking the Afghan government for access to Barhamdagh," he said.

However, he said, the Afghan Government has been denying Bugti's presence in Afghanistan, though Pakistan repeatedly raised it with Afghanistan that their soil was being used against Pakistan.

Altaf criticises parties’ ‘criminal silence’ over Taliban threats

KARACHI: Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain has criticised the political and religious parties for their ‘criminal silence’ on the threats of Sufi Mohammad, who termed parliament, the apex courts, the democratic and judicial system, etc against the spirit of Islam.

In a statement issued from London on Tuesday, he said that the political and religious parties organised rallies, protest demonstrations, etc in their own interest but they remained silent on the threatening statements of Sufi Mohammad, through which he had ridiculed the Constitution and the law of the land.

Hussain also expressed his disappointment on the ‘silence’ of the legal fraternity, civil society and rights bodies on the statements of the Taliban and the chief of the Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi.

He asked ‘patriotic Pakistanis’ to question their respective political and religious leaders on their silence.

‘Today, the world’s newspapers, magazines, periodicals and media are candidly writing on Pakistan’s existence and safety and claiming that Pakistan is about to break up.’

‘In this scenario only the army, other law enforcement agencies, police and the MQM alone cannot save the country until and unless each and every Pakistani comes into the practical arena and convinces their respective political and religious parties and their leaders to come forward and play their proactive and positive role to save the country.’

Opposition grows to Pakistan's Taliban pact

ISLAMABAD - Opposition is building in Pakistan to a peace deal aimed at ending Taliban violence in a northwestern region after the Islamists challenged democratic rule and started taking over new areas.

Pakistan is struggling to come up with a coherent strategy to stop the spread of militant violence and influence, raising fears that the country could slowly slide into Taliban hands.

After failing to quell the Taliban through force, President Asif Ali Zardari last week approved enforcement of Islamic sharia law in the Swat valley and adjoining areas despite criticism from Western governments and Pakistani liberals and rights groups.

Critics said the approval of sharia law in the valley 125 km (80 miles) northwest of Islamabad was akin to appeasing the militants.

Within days they forced their way into a new district closer to the capital, refused to lay down their arms and said their aim was to push their harsh version of Islam across the country.

"They are now threatening to get out of Swat and take other areas into their custody. So we've got to avoid that situation," former prime minister Nawaz Sharif said in an interview with USA Today published Wednesday.

Sharif is seen as the most popular politician in Pakistan after he forced Zardari to give in on a confrontation over the independence of the judiciary last month.

His party backed a resolution in parliament calling for the enforcement of sharia law in Swat to secure peace.

But a radical pro-Taliban Islamic cleric, Sufi Mohammad, who brokered the agreement in Swat, set off alarm bells across the country when he told his followers recently democracy, elections and the judicial system were all "un-Islamic."

Sharif said any deal with militants should include commitments that "democracy will not be allowed to deteriorate and the writ of the government will be honored."

Effective Pakistani action against militants in its northwest is vital to U.S. plans to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan.


Pakistani media has also become increasingly skeptical about Taliban aims and has urged the government to stand up to them.

"Sufi, Taliban must be fenced in" the News newspaper said in a headline on a front-page commentary Wednesday, referring to the radical cleric.

The Dawn newspaper called for action against the cleric and his Taliban followers instead of trying to appease them.

"Sufi Mohammad ... the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda are all committed to overthrowing the state," Dawn said in an editorial. "We must resist this onslaught."

The North West Frontier Province (NWFP) government, led by the secular ethnic Pashtun Awami National Party (ANP), pushed for the introduction of sharia in Swat as the only way to bring peace.

Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said the government reserved the right to use force.

"If someone challenges the writ of the government or endangers the life or property of others, then the government will have the second option open," he said. "The government in no way will allow anyone to run a parallel government."

Critics say the ANP caved in to the Taliban and betrayed the people of Swat who shunned Islamist parties and backed the ANP in a general election last year.