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U.S. Concerned About Pakistan's Swat Valley Deal


More now on a story we've been following in Pakistan. Earlier this week, Pakistani authorities agreed to the introduction of Islamic judicial practices in the country's Swat Valley. In exchange, the Taliban there would agree to a ceasefire with the Pakistani army. The ceasefire deal has raised concern here in the West. President Obama's envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, addressed the issue last night on the "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer."

(Soundbite of TV show, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer")

Mr. RICHARD HOLBROOKE (United States Envoy): We're troubled and confused in a sense about what happened in Swat, because it is not an encouraging trend. Previous ceasefires have broken down. And we do not want to see territory ceded to the bad guys. And the people who took over Swat are very bad people.

SHAPIRO: NPR's South Asia correspondent Philip Reeves has been following the story and he joins us. Good morning.

PHILIP REEVES: Good morning.

SHAPIRO: How accurate is it for Richard Holbrooke to describe this as ceding territory to bad guys?

REEVES: Well, that's certainly what some Pakistanis think. And it's clearly what NATO, next door in Afghanistan, thinks. But you know, we'll have to see whether this deal actually goes through. Remember, this is an agreement between the provincial authorities in Northwest Pakistan and a radical cleric called Maulana Sufi Mohammad.

Sufi Mohammad is head of a movement that's campaigning for Islamic law. He once led thousands of Pakistanis on a disastrous mission to attack American forces in Afghanistan. But now he's renounced violence and is acting as a mediator in this peace-making effort.

It so happens that the head of the Taliban in Swat is his son-in-law, a guy called Maulana Fazlullah. Today, those two men have been talking about the deal and the Taliban have not yet signed off on it. There's a lot to talk about. For example, Sufi Mohammad and of course the Pakistani government wants the Taliban to disarm. But it's not clear at all whether the deal actually hinges on this. It doesn't look like the Taliban are categorically being asked to hand in their arms.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari's position is characteristically vague. According to his information minister, Zardari's going to sign off on the accord if there is peace in Swat. At the same time, I'm hearing that the Taliban's got some demands of its own about compensation, about introducing some hard-line social laws and so on.

SHAPIRO: And are the Taliban in Swat that they're talking about striking this deal with effectively the same Taliban that American forces are fighting in Afghanistan?

REEVES: No. Though they share the same ideology and they have ties. This is a well organized network of militants based in the northwest of Pakistan. They look to a militant leader in Waziristan called Baitullah Mehsud. You may well have heard of him, because he was the man who was accused by Pakistani officials of being behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

SHAPIRO: And when we say that they're discussing the introduction of Islamic law, what exactly are they talking about? Is this public stonings? Girls can't go to school? Thieves having their hands cut off? Things like that?

REEVES: Well, if you talk to people in Swat, they say they're not worried about this being a very draconian system. They say that actually it's legislation that dates back to the mid-'90s when it was introduced by the government of Benazir Bhutto, which was of course a secular government. They also point out that what it does is that it speeds up the system. It can take decades to get a verdict out of the courts. This sets up an appellate court, a Shariat appellate court, in the northwest of Pakistan and it must deliver its verdicts within a matter of months. They're happy with that. However, others are not. There are, for example, civil activists who say that this is the step in the direction of a hard-line Islamic system and they're worried that it's part of a larger process of the spread of the Islamists across Pakistan.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Philip Reeves speaking with us from New Delhi.

Thank you very much.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.