Pakistani police have arrested the radical cleric behind the peace agreement that sparked a major battle between the Taliban and the military in the northwest.
Sufi Mohammed, the leader of the banned pro-Taliban Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammed [TNSM or the Movement for the Enforcement of Mohammed’s Law], was detained in Peshawar just one day after chairing a shura meeting in the provincial capital of the Northwest Frontier Province.
Sufi’s arrest was confirmed by Mian Iftikhar, the Information Minister for the Northwest Frontier Province, who accused him of encouraging the Taliban to violate the peace agreement signed earlier this year.
“Instead of keeping his promises by taking steps for the sake of peace, and speaking out against terrorism, he did not utter a single word against terrorists,” Iftikhar said during a news conference. Sufi’s words and actions “encouraged terrorism,” Iftikhar continued. “It encouraged violence.”
Just after the Malakand Accord was signed, Sufi denounced the Pakistani government, advocated the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law throughout, Pakistan and worldwide, and blamed security forces for violating the peace agreement.
”We hate democracy,” Sufi told the crowd of thousands of followers in Mingora, the main city in Swat, in February 2009. “We want the occupation of Islam in the entire world. Islam does not permit democracy or election.”
Sufi was detained just one day after he was seen on Pakistani television chairing a meeting of the TNSM’s executive council yesterday. The meeting was held “to decide future line of action about efforts for enforcement of Sharia in the division,” Dawn reported.
Sufi and his family were detained by Pakistani security forces in May as the military battled the Taliban in Swat, Dir, and Buner. They were placed in protective custody, and released in early July. Sufi has denied he was in custody, however.
Iftikhar previously indicated Sufi would be ignored after Sufi was released from custody in early July. “Let Sufi Mohammad be history,” said the provincial Minister for Information, Mian Iftikhar Hussain. “His popularity graph has declined and people of Malakand will not trust him anymore.”
Sufi’s latest detention took place as Pakistan’s foreign minister said the government would crack down on all extremists in Pakistan and would no long provide sanctuary to Mullah Omar and the Taliban’s Quetta shura.
“We are clear we have to deal with all elements that are challenging the writ of the government and making Pakistan or other places insecure,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmud Qureshi told the Sunday Times. “We don’t want our soil, our national territory, to be used against anyone.”
“They’ve created havoc, made our environment insecure, and wherever they are, we’ll take them on,” Qureshi said , referring to the Taliban. “Absolutely, we’ll be taking them on.”
Background on the Malakand Accord and fighting in Swat
The fighting in Swat, Dir, Buner, and Shangla broke out earlier this year after a peace agreement with the Taliban failed. The agreement, known as the Malakand Accord, placed the Malakand Division and the district of Kohistan under the control of the Taliban. The Malakand Division comprises the districts of Malakand, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, and Chitral. Together with the neighboring Kohistan district, the Malakand Division encompasses nearly one-third of the Northwest Frontier Province.
The government signed the Malakand Accord with Sufi Mohammed, the father-in-law of Swat Taliban leader Mullah Qair Fazlullah, on Feb. 16 after two years of fighting that had put the Taliban in control of the district. During those two years, the military was defeated three separate times while attempting to wrest control from the Taliban. Each defeat put the Taliban in greater control of the district.
The peace agreement called for the end of military operations in Swat, the end of Taliban operations, and the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law, in the Malakand Division.
But the Taliban violated the agreement immediately after signing it, and proceeded to attack security forces and conduct armed patrols. The military remained silent while the government approved the Taliban’s demand for sharia throughout Malakand.
The government ordered a military offensive in Dir and Buner after enormous pressure from the US and other Western governments to stem the Taliban tide pushing toward central Pakistan. The Taliban advanced from Swat into Buner in early April and took over the district in eight days. The move into Buner has put the Taliban within 60 miles of Islamabad and close to several nuclear facilities and the vital Tarbela Dam. The Taliban also have moved into Mansehra and established bases and a training camp in the region.
Pakistani government and military officials had dismissed the Taliban threat to Islamabad and the country’s nuclear facilities, but at the end of April, the local Islamabad government ordered troops to deploy in the Margala hills just north of the city to block a Taliban advance, while the Haripur government beefed up security at the Tarbela Dam.
The military claimed that more than 90 percent of Swat has been cleared, while more than 1,800 Taliban fighters and 160 Pakistan troops were killed during the fighting. The government is urging the more than three million internally displaced people who fled the fighting return home. More than 300,000 have begun to filter back into Swat, Dir, and Buner.
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