Swat ‘peace broker’ held

PESHAWAR: Pakistani police on Sunday arrested pro-Taliban cleric Sufi Muhammad, who brokered a peace deal between the government and militants in the Swat Valley that has since faltered.

Muhammad, father-in-law of Swat Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah, negotiated a truce with the government in February that imposed Shariah law in the valley in exchange for an end to two years of fighting. But it was widely seen as an acquiescence to Taliban control of the area.

The deal collapsed in April when the Taliban advanced into neighbouring districts, triggering a military offensive that prompted a spree of retaliatory attacks by militants in the northwest and beyond. Mian Iftikhar, information minister for the North West Frontier Province, said Muha-mmad was arrested for encouraging violence and terrorism.

“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 in a news conference in Peshawar, adding that the cleric’s stance “encouraged terrorism. It encouraged violence.”

The military offensive in the Swat Valley and surrounding areas led some 2 million people to flee their homes and take refuge in camps and with relatives across the country.

In the last two weeks, hundreds of thousands have been returning home as the offensive winds down, although sporadic fighting persists.