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Outrage over Taliban flogging of Pakistani girl could threaten peace deal

A video of a girl being lashed 34 times for allegedly being seen with a man who was not her husband has prompted a chorus of condemnations led by President Asif Ali Zardari.

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The public flogging of a 17-year-old girl in Pakistan's Swat Valley sparked a wave of protests across the country this weekend, but local residents fear the backlash may jeopardize a precarious peace deal between the Pakistani government and militants in the troubled region.

A grainy video depicting a girl being pinned down by three men and lashed 34 times – Islamic law punishment for allegedly being seen with a man who was not her husband – was released on private Pakistani television channels on Friday night prompting a chorus of condemnations led by President Asif Ali Zardari, who has ordered an inquiry into the incident.

"[We] have a responsibility to stand for our people if they are being subjected to atrocities by elements that are not recognized by the state as legitimate actors. Ignoring such acts of violence amounts to sanctioning impunity," says Sherry Rehman, a member of parliament from the ruling Pakistan People's Party, who was information Minister at the time the Swat Valley peace deal allowing Islamic law was signed in February. She adds that the government may be forced to review its position with regard to the peace deal in the face of growing condemnation.

In Swat's main town of Mingora, however, anger is overridden by a practical desire to maintain good relations with the Taliban whom residents say are in de- facto control of the region. The consensus is that the video, which was shot with a cellphone camera, took place in January – before the peace accord – and that the Taliban has done nothing as controversial since that time.

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