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Pakistan accepts Islamic law in Swat Valley

Militants signed a cease-fire with provincial authorities Monday after they agreed to impose .

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DEAL: Delegates of Islamist leader Sufi Mohammad met with Pakistani authorities in Peshawar Monday to discuss introducing sharia law in Swat and neighboring areas.

Ali Imam/Reuters

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In its latest effort to stem the spread of Taliban militancy, Pakistan is expanding the rule of Islamic law.

In a deal announced Monday, the government agreed to a suite of legal reforms, including the establishment of a religious court of appeals serving only the tribal region of Malakand. The area includes the Swat Valley, a strategic corridor first infiltrated in 2007 by Taliban militants and the scene of an Army counteroffensive. On the eve of the agreement, the Taliban operating in Swat announced a cease-fire with government troops.

Previous Pakistani truces have faced US criticism for merely giving militants space and time to rearm. This latest deal raises the added concern that the government is trading away secular traditions and taking a step toward Islamic law, or .

However, political leaders and analysts here agree that this religious court system would not invoke some of the most draconian punishments often associated with . And it is widely seen as a popular move to restore the efficient rule of law in a country where the secular court system often takes years to resolve cases.

"We are optimistic that this situation imposed on Malakand region will bring peace," says Wajid Ali Khan, a provincial assembly member for Swat. "It's not the demand of the Taliban, it's the demand of the people of the Malakand region."

Easing a bottleneck in the courts

Elements of the religious judicial system, called , have been in place in the region since 1994. While cases could be decided more quickly in these religious courts, they often could be bogged down by appeals to the secular court system.

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