By Syed Saleem Shahzad

Islamabad - The release of a video showing a 17-year-old girl being brutally flogged in public is a deliberate attempt to sabotage the peace deal signed with the Taliban in Pakistan’s troubled northwestern Swat valley, according to North West Frontier Province’s information minister, Mian Iftikhar.

The shocking two-minute video shows bearded Islamic militants - one of whom is her brother - holding the girl down as she screams out in pain. It was aired Friday on a Pakistani TV channel talk show and inflamed public opinion in the country.

“We were able to acquire peace [in the Swat valley] after a very long time and such media manipulations showing a past event as recent would spoil these efforts and could drag the region once again in turmoil,” Iftikhar told reporters.

He claims he personally visited the Swat valley to investigate the case and that the flogging occurred on 3 January, nearly five weeks before the Swat peace deal was signed on 16 February. Local Islamic courts were established a few days later.

Iftikhar is the leader of the anti-Taliban secular Pashtun Awami National Party, which was targeted by Islamic militants during a bloody two-year conflict with security forces in the Swat valley which ended in February when they signed a controversial peace deal with the NWFP government.

The Taliban have downplayed the video.

“This was an old incident which happened before the Islamic Sharia courts were constituted in the Swat Valley and even before the ceasefire was announced.

"It was not officially done by the Taliban but some Taliban did that in their private capacity,” Taliban spokesperson Haji Muslim Khan told Adnkronos International (AKI).

Khan said the girl’s flogging took place while the Taliban was fighting the Pakistani army. "We were not in a position to control each and every event and therefore some lapses happened," he said.

"Nevertheless, one thing was confirmed and that is that the girl was wayward and therefore she should be punished.”

The flogging occurred after a neighbour reportedly claimed the girl had a relationship with a married man.

“Some rules were ignored during the implementation of flogging like, it should be done behind closed doors and not in public," Khan admitted.

Pakistan’s chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has ordered Pakistan’s interior secretary and the NWFP government to prepare a report on the incident by by Monday.