Thousands Marched For "Peace" In Pakistan's Unrestive Swat Valley

. 2/18/09

A Prominent Muslim cleric who led a struggle for Islamic law in Pakistan's troubled Swat valley began a "peace march" on Wednesday to persuade the locals to stop fighting, two days after reaching an accord with the government.

Maulana Sufi Mohammad was released last year after spending six years in prison for leading thousands of fighters into Afghanistan in a vain attempt to help the Taliban repel U.S.-backed invading forces.

The government freed the old rebel in the hope that after reaching agreement with Maulana Sufi Mohammad, he would persuade his even more influential son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah, to halt an insurrection that began in late 2007.

Analysts say that for all the respect accorded to Maulana Sufi Mohammad there are worries that Maulana Fazlullah may have fallen under the spell of other Taliban factions and al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, Maulana Sufi Mohammad said that he would return from Swat only after having achieved the target for which he has come to Swat. He said that the Peace March aims at ending the environment of fear and harassment.
Maulana Mohammad said that the struggle for Shariat has taken a big leap forward and hoped that peace in the entire country would be restored with the enforcement of Sharia laws.

As expected U.S. officials and NATO have expressed dismay to Pakistani officials over the government's decision to accede to the Islamists demands for Sharia, and speedy justice in the region.

They fear it will encourage the Taliban to believe militancy will succeed both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where President Obama has began reinforcing U.S. troops. But Pakistan is under immense pressure domestically.

Between 250,000 and 500,000 people have fled Swat since Pakistani Army and US led invading forces campaigned attacks to curb Maulana Fazlullah and local rebels. At least 1,200 civilians have been killed in the region just 130 km (80 miles) from Islamabad, that was once a tourist paradise known as Switzerland of Pakistan.

inputs from Reuters

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