[JURIST] Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] signed legislation Monday that would establish Islamic Sharia law [CFR backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in the volatile North West Frontier Province (NWFP) area of Swat, sending the bill [Daily Times report] to the Pakistani parliament for approval. The Pakistani government and Islamic militants linked to the Taliban [JURIST news archive] reached an agreement [JURIST report] in February on the deal, which is contingent on peace [NYT report] between the government and the militants. Zardari's endorsement of the deal follows a parliamentary resolution [Dawn report] passed earlier Monday calling on the president to ratify the agreement. As with an earlier tentative agreement [JURIST report] reached in May 2008 to establish Sharia law in the Swat area, Monday's agreement will create a separate justice system [BBC report] for the whole region.
The agreement for the implementation of sharia law in Swat has been seen by many as a controversial concession [Dawn report] by the Pakistani government to Islamic militant groups. The May 2008 agreement [Guardian report] to establish Sharia law in the Swat area, which collapsed amid ongoing violence between Islamic groups and the Pakistani military, provided that militants would halt suicide attacks and hand over foreign fighters under local protection. In exchange, an Islamic justice system would have been created to operate in parallel with the secular system, and established Pakistani courts would have been advised by Islamic scholars. Violence by Islamic militants has long been a problem in Pakistan's outlying provinces. Earlier in 2008, Pakistan's top Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud [BBC profile] and four others were charged [JURIST report] in the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive]. Meshud is the commander of Tehrik-e-Taliban, a group of Islamic militants with links to al Qaeda. He has denied involvement in the attack.