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(New York) - The Pakistani government should swiftly reverse its decision to cede de-facto administrative control of the Swat valley in Pakistan's tribal areas to the Taliban and affiliated groups, Human Rights Watch said today. The move presents a grave threat to the rights of women and other basic rights in the troubled region, Human Rights Watch said.

On April 13, 2009, President Asif Ali Zardari signed an ordinance imposing Sharia law in the Swat valley and effectively empowering the Taliban and other groups, there and in surrounding areas of the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA). Human Rights Watch called for the details of the February 15 peace deal with the Taliban, part of which included an agreement to impose Sharia law on the area, to be made public and said that any agreement must ensure the basic human rights of the population.

"The Taliban are taking Swat back to the Dark Ages and the Pakistani government is now complicit in their horrific abuses," said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Tossing out the rights of the people in the tribal areas reflects abysmally on both the government and the Pakistani military's ability to protect Pakistan's citizens."

The Pakistani armed forces, police, and administration have effectively abandoned most of the Swat valley and adjoining areas, leaving the Taliban in de-facto control. While the full details of the peace agreement have not been officially released, the new legal framework is seen by the Taliban and affiliated groups as formal acquiescence by the Pakistani government to their administrative control of the region.

The Taliban have imposed their authority in Swat and adjoining areas through summary executions - including beheadings - of state officials and political opponents, public whippings, and large-scale intimidation of the population. Girls' schools have been shut down, women are not allowed to leave their homes unless escorted by male family members, polio immunization programs have been halted, and nongovernmental organizations have been expelled. Music and film have been banned and stores trading in them have been destroyed. All men have been required to grow beards.

Human Rights Watch expressed particular concern about the likelihood of increased abuses against women and girls in Taliban-controlled areas. The public airing in April of  an undated but recent mobile telephone video of the public flogging of a woman by the Taliban in Swat caused outrage across Pakistan and internationally. The two-minute video showed a veiled, screaming woman face down on the ground as two men hold her arms and feet and a third man whips her repeatedly.

"The government defends this ordinance by saying that the officials implementing the law are still appointed by the provincial government and that they will respect the rights of women and others," said Hasan. "But the reality is that any official in Swat who does not follow the dictates of the Taliban may be signing his or her own death warrant."

President Zardari signed the "Nizam-e-Adl" (system of justice) ordinance after Pakistan's parliament unanimously passed a resolution recommending the measure. The ordinance followed the peace deal signed by the government of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) with the Taliban to end hostilities in the area between Pakistan and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistani Taliban, which have been ongoing since the summer of 2007. The provincial government, led by the ostensibly secular Awami National Party (ANP), concluded the agreement with Sufi Mohammad, leader of the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-Mohammad (TNSM), a Taliban affiliate.

Although the text of the agreement has not been formally released, it is known to call for the withdrawal of the Pakistani military from the Swat valley, the release of all Taliban prisoners, the withdrawal of any criminal cases against Taliban leaders and fighters, and the imposition of Sharia in the Malakand Division, a region that covers over one-third of the province, including the Swat valley.

Sufi Mohammad has repeatedly stated that democracy and Islam are incompatible. Addressing a rally in Swat on February 18, Mohammad told the crowd: "We hate democracy. We want the occupation of Islam in the entire world. Islam does not permit democracy or election."

Human Rights Watch said that the Taliban and their affiliates are not only violating international human rights standards, but also acting in contravention of fundamental rights as enshrined in Pakistan's constitution. The Nizam-e-Adl law also violates the fundamental rights provisions of the Pakistani constitution and seeks to provide a legal framework for abusive administration by the Taliban.

"It is mind-boggling that any elected, rights-respecting government would seek to partner with and cede control to entities and individuals so brazen in their rejection of human rights and constitutional rule," said Hasan. "Instead of being feted as allies, Sufi Mohammad and his allies should be held accountable for their crimes."

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