Mar 7, 2009

Taliban cement rule after Swat truce

The government insists the Taliban won’t be allowed to enforce harsh laws, but merchants like Gul know otherwise – he switched to selling poultry.
‘The Taliban now call the shots. We cannot do anything that offends them,’ he said, standing outside his shop in this once-popular tourist destination.
In his tiny shop in Mingora’s main bazaar, Ali Ahmed now hawks cell phones – not the Pakistani pop music he used to sell, deemed sinful by the Taliban. He says only that the ‘situation’ since the truce was reached means his music business was no longer viable.
Many analysts believe the cease-fire in Swat, like a previous agreement with the militants that failed last year, will eventually collapse leaving the Taliban in a stronger position, having been given time to consolidate.
Despite the truce, violence has continued. Taliban militants killed two soldiers this week who they accused of patrolling without first informing them, one of the terms of the truce.
In Mingora, an Associated Press photographer saw scores of Sufi Muhammad’s followers in the street last week, some in cars playing music glorifying jihad, or holy war. The police presence was limited to the occasional officer directing traffic.
The nearby districts of Kanju and Matta were under total Taliban control and outsiders were not allowed to visit, residents said.
‘You know it has been bloodshed for the last two years. It has been a complete chaos and vacuum. So, what we are trying at present is a transition from instability to stability,’ said Khushal Khan, the top civilian administrator in the valley.
He suggested the militants would give up their weapons voluntarily after some time.
Officials have insisted that while Islamic judges would be brought into the justice system, they would not be allowed to change the political system or start regulating social issues.
‘Nobody will be allowed to close shops selling CDs,’ provincial law minister Arshad Abdullah said.
Residents, many of whom fled during the fighting, are simply glad of the respite from army shelling and brutal Taliban executions designed to dissuade anyone from resisting their authority.
‘We are happy that peace is coming to our region,’ said Zia ud-Din, a 45-year-old lawyer. ‘We no longer see bodies hanging from trees.’

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