ISLAMABAD, April 13 President Asif Ali Zardari approved a controversial Sharia regulation for the Malakand division of the North West Frontier Province on Monday after the National Assembly asked for what seemed to be a clear concession to Taliban militants of the Swat valley to implement a peace deal between them and the provincial government.

The president put his signature on the document soon after the lower house made its unprecedented recommendation in a resolution adopted at the end of a heated debate that saw the so-called left-wing, right-wing, progressive and Islamic parties uphold the two-month-old deal that had caused unease within the country and to Pakistan`s Western allies in the “war against terrorism”.

“Yes, the president signed the regulation after the National Assembly adopted the resolution,” presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar told Dawn.

Later the president left for Dubai on a short visit.

A parliamentary resolution was not needed to enforce the “Sharia Nizam-i-Adl Regulation 2009” by the Awami National Party-led NWFP coalition government as the Constitution empowers the president to give the required approval to such laws for what is known as Provincially Administered Tribal Areas, such as Malakand and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which too have been gripped by terrorist militancy for the past several years.

But amid threats by militants to inflict more violence and from a wavering ANP to reconsider its role as a junior partner in the Pakistan People`s Party-led federal coalition if the president did not sign the regulation, the government`s decision to bring the matter to parliament seemed to be a clever political move to involve all parties so they could share the blame if things went wrong in the future.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the house that while the PPP had already supported the Feb 16 peace deal between the provincial coalition, of which it is a partner, and the Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi on behalf of the Taliban, the government came to the National Assembly only to gain a wider “moral force” for the move.

Despite its initial opposition to any debate on the issue in the house, mainly on procedural grounds, the ANP`s emotional calls for an urgent enforcement of the regulation to avoid more Pakhtun bloodshed were supported by speakers from the left-of-centre PPP, the right-wing Pakistan Muslim League-N and Pakistan Muslim League-Q, the hardline religious Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam and the usually-pro-government Fata lawmakers.

But the Muttahida Qaumi Movement was unimpressed by what it saw as an attempt to enforce a particular brand of religious thought at gunpoint and abstained from the vote by staging a silent walkout. Speaker Fehmida Mirza, on a prime ministerial suggestion, ruled the resolution was passed unanimously.

Responding to objections to tabling a resolution from ANP member Pervaiz Khan and former interior minister Aftab Khan Sherpao, Prime Minister Gilani said his government was not against the peace deal as the president had given a go-ahead to the NWFP government to make it.

The premier also told the house he had talked on Monday morning to ANP president Asfandyar Wali Khan who, he said, wanted the resolution to be passed “as soon as possible”.

Apparently seeking to dispel ANP fears that the PPP might block the regulation with the help of allies like the MQM, Mr Gilani said the government was not seeking any constitutional amendment on the issue and rather sought the passage of the resolution “as a moral force”.

“I am with them, I am not against them,” he said about his government`s stance about the ANP`s calls for an immediate presidential approval for the regulation, which seeks to set up Sharia courts to replace those under the normal law of the county for delivery of justice under little-defined Sharia.

Opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of the PML-N called the peace deal “no ideal pact”, but said “there could be no better pact than this in the present situation”.

Mr Sherpao said the new regulation was “not much different” from the one enforced in the area in 1994 when he was a PPP chief minister of the NWFP and later in 1999 and voiced hope that its enforcement would restore peace to the region.

MQM parliamentary leader Farooq Sattar was the only one to oppose the deal with arguments that largely remained unanswered from the supporters of the move before he led his group silently march out of the house after the prime minister and some of his ministers failed to persuade them from reversing what he said would only be abstention from voting on a move that he said would amount to allowing a Kalashinkov-bearing ultra-radical group to enforce its school of thought by force, endorsing the establishment of a parallel judicial system in the country, and encouraging those who would flog women and might not allow a women like Fehmida Mirza to be the National Assembly speaker.

PML-N`s Ayaz Amir called the regulation as the product of a “doctrine of necessity” that Pakistani superior courts in the past used to uphold military coups, but added it should be given the benefit of doubt as it could be a “harbinger of better things” despite “many doubts”.

The resolution, moved by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Babar Awan after rejecting procedural objections to the move, said the law provided for “Nifaz-i-Nizam-i-Sharia Mohammadi through courts in the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas of the province, except the tribal areas adjoining Mansehra district and the former state of Amb”.

It said the regulation, “according to the (provincial) governor, is to further the ends” of the Feb 16 peace agreement as a result of which law and order situation was “reportedly” improving in Swat. “Therefore, this house recommends that the president, being part of the parliament, may be pleased to accord approval to the said regulation in terms of provisions of article 247 of the constitution.”

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