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Pakistan agrees to restore Islamic law in Swat

Islamabad signs agreement with Islamists to apply Sharia

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Pakistan's government agreed to restore a strict form of Islamic law in the Swat valley and neighboring areas of the northwest on Monday in a bid to take the steam out of a Taliban uprising raging since late 2007.

"After successful negotiations ... all un-Islamic laws related to the judicial system, those against the Quran and Sunnah, would be subject to cancellation and considered null and void," a spokesman for the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) said in a statement after talks in Peshawar with Islamist leaders from Swat.

The agreement will cover Pakistan's northwest Malakand area, one of the districts of the NWFP and part of the Swat, where an uprising erupted in late 2007 and which Islamists now control.

They have destroyed more than 200 girls schools in a campaign against female education, and tens of thousands of people have fled their homes to escape the violence.

The move is likely to draw criticism from the United States and other Western powers fearful that Pakistan is playing into the hands of religious conservatives who sympathize with the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

There was no immediate comment from Islamist groups. But Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan said Sunday that a 10-day ceasefire, announced as a "goodwill gesture," could become permanent if a full agreement were signed on Monday.

Crown of Pakistani tourism descends into chaos

Until two years ago, Swat was a jewel in the crown of Pakistani tourism, frequented by foreign and local vacationers escaping to the mountains for skiing in winter or cooler climes in the punishing heat of summer.

But the northwest region descended into chaos after radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah embarked on a terrifying campaign to enforce Taliban-style Sharia law, prompting thousands of people to flee and suffocating day-to-day life.

Pakistan, under massive Western pressure to clamp down on extremists, has pressed military offensives in an attempt to flush out the Islamists and wrest back control of Swat, which locals say has fallen to the insurgents.

Pakistan has long hoped that negotiations with the Islamists can restore peace to the violence-torn regions.

"It is my hope that the armed people will disarm themselves, give up the path of violence and work for restoration of peace in Swat," chief minister of NWFP, Amir Haider Hoti, told reporters Monday.

Hoti had convened a meeting of political and religious leaders and tribal elders in Peshawar.

Twenty-nine delegates from the so-called Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Sharia, led by Maulana Muhammad Alam, attended the meeting on Monday.

A peace deal signed between Pakistan's new government and pro-Taliban militants in Swat last May quickly unraveled.

U.S., NATO and Afghan officials have criticized previous peace deals in Pakistan, saying that they have led to an increase in suicide attacks on international and Afghan forces across the border in Afghanistan.