Taliban ceasefire at risk as cleric abandons talks

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The hardline Muslim cleric who has mediated peace talks between Pakistan and the Taliban in the Swat Valley packed up and left the northwestern district yesterday, angrily denouncing the President for failing to sign off on imposing Islamic law in the area.

Sufi Muhammad's departure imperils a fragile ceasefire between militants and security forces that brought a tense calm to the valley after months of bloodletting but also alarmed Western leaders who want Pakistan to eradicate al-Qa'ida and Taliban havens. The potential for a return to violence in Swat comes as nuclear-armed Pakistan faces unrest well beyond its north-western tribal regions, where militants are believed to have bases where they plan attacks on US and Nato troops across the border in Afghanistan. Analysts said Muhammad's departure effectively kills any pact.