Pakistan president signs sharia law deal

ISLAMABAD, April 14, 2009 (AFP) – Pakistan’s president signed an accord to put part of the country under Islamic law as part of efforts to end a Taliban insurgency, despite fears Tuesday that it would encourage extremism.

President Asif Ali Zardari’s move formalises a controversial deal between a pro-Taliban cleric, who led thousands of supporters to fight against US troops in Afghanistan, and the government in North West Frontier Province.

The deal applies to Malakand, a district of around three million people in the province that includes the Swat valley.

The central government lost control in Swat, a former ski resort and jewel in the crown of Pakistani tourism, after cleric Maulana Fazlullah launched a campaign to enforce Taliban-style sharia.

Militants beheaded opponents, bombed schools and fought government forces, prompting tens of thousands of people to flee.

“God willing it will have a positive impact on the situation in Swat,” said interior ministry chief Rehman Malik of the agreement.

“It is hoped that those who wanted this law in Swat will now surrender their arms and also bring the peace,” he told reporters.

However, critics say the deal opens the floodgates to the “Taliban