Taliban Declares Judicial Independence In Swat

The Taliban cleric in charge of Pakistan's Swat Valley has declared the area judicially independent from the country's federal government.

Sufi Mohammad said Wednesday that Islamic law, or Shariah, decisions handed down by militants in the mountainous region will not be subject to appeal or overrule by the Pakistani Supreme Court or any other avenue of appeal in the justice system, reports CBS News' Farhan Bokhari.

"The appointment of qazis (Islamic judges) will be followed by the creation of a darul qaza (Islamic high court). Any decisions made by these two (institutions) will not be subject to challenge in any Pakistani high court or Supreme Court," said Mohammad.

(AP Photo/Naveed Ali)
At left: Supporters of hardline cleric Sufi Muhammad leave Mingora in Pakistan's troubled Swat Valley, April 9, 2009.

It was a direct challenge to the government just days after lawmakers and President Asif Ali Zardari officially approved the implementation of Shariah law in Swat as a concession to the militants, who had waged a bloody battle against Paksitani security forces in the region for months. They agreed to lay down their arms if Islamic law was instituted.

CBS News' Maria Usman reports that, according to the legislation approved Monday by Pakistan's government, the federal court system does have the ultimate say on decisions handed down by the Islamic courts in Swat.

Bokhari reports that many critics of the government's agreement with the Taliban say Mohammad's statement has confirmed fears that the militant group is only clamoring to expand their influence across Pakistan.

One of those critics has been the government of neighboring Afghanistan. "We do not interfere in Pakistan's internal affairs," President Hamid Karzai's spokesman told the French news agency AFP. However, he said there were concerns that, "dealing with terrorists and handing over parts of one country to terrorists could have dire consequences in the long term."

Ghazi Salahuddin, a prominent political commentator for The NEWS, a leading Pakistani newspaper, told Bokhari, "this position taken by the Taliban in Swat must be unacceptable to all of us. This effectively means that there is a state within a state."

"What space is there left for democracy in Pakistan?" asked Salahuddin rhetorically. "What is happening in Pakistan is a retreat from democracy. Our democracy is under siege."

CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports that the Pakistani authorities can do nothing. In February, they ceded control of Swat to the Taliban. Now police stations and army posts lie in ruins.

Watch Palmer's full report for the CBS Evening News:

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.