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Pakistan accepts Islamic law in Swat Valley

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Such an appeal could take more than a decade, driving legal fees beyond the means of many Pakistanis, meaning that justice delayed would often mean justice denied.

"If you see such economic and social injustice, then naturally your mind goes to Islamic justice," says Shah Farman, the provincial general secretary of the Tehreek e-Insaf, or party of justice. "People are looking for speedy and cheap justice."

The lack of an efficient justice system sparked political protests starting in the 1990s by Sufi Muhammad, the father-in-law of the current Taliban leader in Swat Valley, Maulana Fazlullah. Monday's deal was struck between the provincial government and Mr. Muhammad, with the blessing of Pakistan's federal government and military.

The deal sets time limits for trials: six months for civil cases, four months for criminal cases. And the new religious appellate court would remove the need for local cases to be appealed into the secular court system.

Deal meant to undercut militants

In exchange, Muhammad agreed to call off his protests. The hope is that Muhammad will be able to "nibble away gradually" local support for his militant son-in-law, Fazlullah, says Ismail Khan, Peshawar bureau chief for the English-language newspaper Dawn. "This will deny Fazlullah the slogan that he's fighting for ," he says.

However, it's unclear what ability Muhammad has to peel away fighters from Fazlullah, notes Mr. Khan, who doubts the move will result in significant disarmament.

That skepticism is shared by those who see the Taliban's end goal in Swat not to be the rule of Islamic law, but rule by their guns.

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