After months of fighting, Taliban militants in Swat announced a cease-fire Tuesday after the army said it would suspend operations in the region and Pakistani authorities agreed to introduce a mild form of Islamic, or Sharia, law there.
A former tourist destination known as the “Switzerland of Pakistan,” the valley lies within the northern part of the Federally Administered Tribal Area of Pakistan, along the border with Afghanistan.
Violence flared up in the 1990s when Maulana Sufi Mohammad and his Islamic insurgency pushed out government forces in an attempt to impose Sharia law in Swat and neighboring areas.
Mohammad was arrested in Pakistan after he tried to lead a resistance in Afghanistan against the U.S. forces that toppled the Taliban regime in 2001. Pakistani authorities released him in 2008 in an attempt to quell another uprising, this time by his son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah.
The Pakistani army deployed troops to Swat in October 2007 to try to regain control. A new civilian government that came to power in spring 2008 attempted to reach a peace agreement with the local leaders, but it fell apart within months.
Since then, about 1,200 soldiers, militants and civilians have been killed in battles, and between 250,000 to 500,000 people have left the valley, leaving the militants in control, Reuters reported.
A truce has been in effect since Feb. 15 when Pakistani authorities offered to introduce Sharia law in the region if militants lay down their arms.
The cease-fire was due to end Feb. 25, but spokesman Muslim Khan said insurgent leaders decided to extend it indefinitely, the Associated Press reported.
NATO and the United States have expressed concern that any peace accord could effectively cede the valley to militants, who have beheaded opponents and bombed girls’ schools, according to the AP.
Richard Holbrooke, U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, told the NewsHour that the insurgent takeover of Swat shows that India, Pakistan and the United States all have a common threat now.
“The people who did 9/11 in the United States, the people who attacked Mumbai, and the people who seized Swat all come from the same roots and all are located in the same area,” he said.
“It is our hope that India and Pakistan, who have faced off against each other and fought several wars in the last 60 years, are now going to find the common cause to reduce this threat by taking it on head on.”