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Q+A - How did Islamist militancy emerge in Pakistani paradise?
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's government agreed to enforce Islamic judicial system in Swat valley and neighbouring areas of the northwest on Monday in a bid to take the steam out of a Taliban uprising raging since late 2007.
The decision was reached after consultations between the government of North West Frontier Province and religious hardliners.
A provincial government spokesman said President Asif Ali Zardari has agreed in principle to the move, which is likely to draw criticism from the United States and other Western powers fearful that the Taliban and al Qaeda are gaining strength in Pakistan.
WHAT IS SWAT LIKE?
With green meadows, high mountains and clear lakes, Swat is a favourite tourist destination, often called "the Switzerland of Pakistan".
Like the rest of the northwest, Swat has historically been a conservative region but a large number of its population is educated thanks to schools set up by the former native rulers, the Waalis.
Swatis are ethnic Pashtuns.
WHAT IS SWAT'S HISTORY
Under British colonial rule, Swat was a princely state meaning it was not directly governed by the British but through a native ruler, the Waali. The Waali system continued after Pakistan won independence in 1947 but it was abolished in 1969 when Swat was absorbed into the Pakistani federation and made a district of NWFP.
Under the Wali system, an Islamic scholar, a Qazi, acted as judge and laws were based on local tradition, mostly drawn from the sharia, Islamic law.
WHAT KIND OF ISLAMIC JUDICIAL SYSTEM IS SWAT GETTING?
Under Nizam-e-Adl or Islamic system of justice, all judicial laws contrary to Islamic teachings stand cancelled and the courts will decide the cases in line with Islamic injunctions.
These laws were largely in use before Swat was absorbed into Pakistan in 1969, and governments in the 1990s had promised to implement them to placate militants, but never fully did.
Unlike the Taliban courts, which have been summarily handing out severe punishments like chopping off hands of thieves and stoning to death adulterers and rapists, there will be a system of appeal on the decisions handed out by courts in Swat and neighbouring districts.
Ordinary judges, with a knowledge of Islam, will officiate rather than a Qazi. Analysts said the courts are unlikely to hand down Taliban-like sentences.
WHERE DID ISLAMIST MILITANCY SPRING FROM IN SWAT?
Islamist militancy erupted in the 1990s when Maulana Sufi Mohammad, a radical cleric, took up arms to impose sharia law in Swat and neighbouring areas of Malakand, Dir as well as in the Bajaur tribal region on the Afghan border.
Mohammad set up a militant organisation, Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), Movement for Enforcement of Sharia Law of the Prophet Mohammad, and led an armed uprising in 1994.
Once the government regained control it agreed that an Islamic judicial system would be introduced to head off future trouble, but never lived up to its promises, according to Swat's Islamists.
Mohammad was arrested after he returned to Pakistan having led thousands of fighters to Afghanistan in 2001 in a vain attempt to help the Taliban resist U.S.-backed forces.
Some TNSM leaders are believed to have ties with al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahri.
HOW DID THE LATEST LATEST WAVE OF MILITANCY BEGIN?
With Sufi Mohammad in jail, his firebrand son-in-law, Maulvi Fazlullah, emerged as the main militant leader in Swat. Fazlullah used illegal FM radio to propagate his message and became known as Mullah Radio. His followers have waged a violent campaign to enforce Taliban-style social values.
Fazlullah called his men to arms after a military assault on Red Mosque in Islamabad in mid-2007 to put down a armed movement that was seeking to impose Islamic law in the capital.
The army deployed troops in Swat in October 2007 and used artillery and gunship helicopters to reassert control, but insecurity mounted after a civilian government came to power a year ago and tried to reach a negotiated settlement.
A peace accord fell apart in May. Since then hundreds of people, including soldiers, militants and civilians have been killed in battles. Tens of thousands of people have fled the violence and the militants are in virtual control of the valley.
They unleashed a reign of terror, killing and beheading politicians, singers, soldiers and opponents. They have banned female education and destroyed nearly 200 girls' schools.
HOW DID PEACE EFFORTS BEGIN?
The government released Sufi Mohammad from jail in April last year, saying that he had renounced violence and promised to continue his movement peacefully. The latest accord was reached with Mohammad, who has reportedly assured the government that he would persuade the militants to shun violence. Several analysts doubt whether the elderly and sick Mohammad can deliver.
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