Pakistan's parliament on Monday endorsed a move to enforce Islamic laws in the restive northwestern Swat valley, which is largely controlled by the Taliban, and asked President Asif Ali Zardari to accord approval to the measure to usher in peace across the country.
The National Assembly or lower house of the parliament adopted a resolution recommending that President Zardari should accord approval to the Nizam-e-Adal Regulation to implement Shariah or Islamic laws in Swat. The resolution was passed following a debate in the House.
Parliamentarians of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which is part of the Pakistan People's Party-led ruling coalition, stayed away from proceedings during the voting on the resolution.
The North West Frontier Province government drafted the Nizam-e-Adal Regulation after reaching an agreement in February with the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah Muhammadi, a group of religious hardliners, on enforcing Shariah in Swat.
In return, the TNSM began peace parleys with the local Taliban, who called a truce in the region located just 160 km from Islamabad. Western powers, including Britain and the United States, have expressed concerns about the peace deal in Swat. Observers have said that it would embolden the militants to demand the enforcement of Shariah in other parts of Pakistan.
Despite parliament's endorsement of the Nizam-e-Adal Regulation, the draft legislation will have to be ratified by Zardari to come into force. However, even before its ratification, TNSM chief Maulana Sufi Muhammad has established Qazi or Islamic courts in Swat. Muhammad, who is the father-in-law of Swat's Taliban chief Maulana Fazlullah, also launched a protest last week to pressure Zardari to ratify the measure.
The Awami National Party, which rules the NWFP, has threatened to pull out of the PPP-led federal coalition if Zardari does not ratify the Regulation by April 21. The NWFP government submitted the Regulation to the President last week and Zardari then asked Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani to present the document before the parliament.
After the resolution was passed by the National Assembly, Gilani said the federal government will respect the mandate and desire of the NWFP administration.
He said the National Assembly was taken into confidence because of its sovereignty. The Taliban have been fighting for the enforcement of Shariah in Swat since 2007. They have torched or bombed over 200 girls' school, outlawed popular forms of entertainment and clashed with security forces.
The main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has offered its full support to the Regulation. MQM leader and federal minister Farooq Sattar said more time was needed to fully discuss the Regulation. "We are not in a position right now to say either yes or no to the Regulation," he said.