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Pakistani Taliban asks NGOs to leave Swat

By Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
March 23, 2009 23:26 IST
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Gaining an upper hand in the restive Swat valley in north-western Pakistan after signing of a deal with the authorities, an emboldened Taliban has told all Non Government Organisations working in the area to pack their bags, saying their activities are un-Islamic.

In a recent broadcast on his illegal FM radio station, Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah said, "All NGOs should leave Swat because they are creating problems for peace."

Fazlullah has also described all Pakistanis working for NGOs as "enemies of the country".

"They come and tell us how to make latrines in mosques and homes. I'm sure we can do it ourselves. There is no need for foreigners to tell us this," Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan said.

The Taliban are currently engaged in peace talks with the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah Muhammadi, a group of religious hardliners that signed a deal with the North West Frontier Province government to usher in peace in Swat.

Since the signing of the peace deal, the TNSM has set up Islamic courts in Swat and appointed Qazis to preside over them. The TNSM has also said lawyers and civil judges will have no role in the Islamic courts.

Muslim Khan told IRIN, a news network run by the United Nations,  that "NGO is another name for vulgarity and obscenity. They don't want us to remain Muslims and want to take away the veil from our women."

Khan claimed NGOs hire women who work alongside men in the fields and in offices. "That is totally un-Islamic and unacceptable," he said.

NWFP Relief Commissioner Jameel Amjad said authorities are pursuing a policy of conciliation and "things have worked out well so far in Swat. "With time, I'm sure, when the situation normalises, the work of the NGOs will further strengthen," Amjad added.

There were about 10 NGOs currently active in Swat valley. All are non-profit organisations and do not differentiate between Muslims and non-Muslims when it comes to providing aid.

Among international NGOs, only humanitarian medical organisations -- including Medecins Sans Frontieres and the International Committee of the Red Cross -- are reportedly allowed to function in the region.

MSF stopped work after two of its staff were killed on February but has resumed its activities recently.

Since the Taliban insurgency began in 2007, some local NGOs have pulled down their signboards. However, some are working with the implicit approval of the Taliban.

Ziauddin Yusufzai, a college principal in Swat, said, "The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan looks upon the NGOs with displeasure. They have even refused to accept relief goods from some international relief organisations, saying that help from non-Muslims is unacceptable."

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Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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