New leader of Pakistani Taliban named
ISLAMABAD — Six days after a U.S. drone strike killed the chief of the Pakistani Taliban, the terrorist organization named Mullah Fazlullah as its leader, a controversial choice that is bound to produce a bloody upsurge in militant attacks across Pakistan but that also is likely to irreversibly fracture the group.
The appointment of Fazlullah, who uses only one name, came after extended consultations among faction leaders of the Taliban Movement of Pakistan in North Waziristan, the last of Pakistan’s seven northwest tribal areas to be territorially dominated by militant insurgents. The group is commonly referred to as the TTP, an acronym derived from its Urdu-language name, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.
Fazlullah is notorious as the “butcher of Swat” for his leadership of a chapter of the Taliban Movement of Pakistan that twice defeated Pakistani security forces and occupied, from 2007 to 2009, the picturesque districts of Swat and Malakand in northwest Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
During his reign of terror, Fazlullah regularly ordered the public executions of residents deemed to have violated his interpretation of Islamic law or to have colluded against him with the Pakistani authorities. Victims had their throats slit, and their decapitated corpses were hung from posts in the center of Mingora, the regional capital, which was previously among Pakistan’s most popular summer tourism resorts.
Fazlullah and his militant fighters were finally ejected from Swat in the spring of 2009 and were pursued by commandos of Pakistan’s special services group into the adjacent tribal area of Bajaur and, later, into the neighboring eastern Afghan province of Nurestan.
Fazlullah earned international notoriety for ordering the November 2012 shooting of Malala Yousafzai, a teenage girl from Swat who had campaigned against the TTP’s bombing of schools. She narrowly survived after being airlifted to the United Kingdom for specialist medical treatment. She has since been feted across the world for her bravery, narrowly missing out on the Nobel Peace Prize.
True to form, the first act of Fazlullah in his capacity as the new TTP chief was to reject peace talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party won a May general election, in part, on his promise to “give peace a chance” by seeking a negotiated end to the war with the Taliban insurgents.
However, Pakistani military officials and Taliban commanders based in the tribal areas said Fazlullah was not nearly as strong as the TTP had sought to portray. A six-day delay in Fazlullah’s appointment masked internal opposition from the two largest Taliban chapters in Pakistan, they said.
The officials and commanders spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying identification would provoke lethal reprisals from the TTP.