NationalVolume 13 Issue # 22

Fazlullah: An assessment

Although the death of Fazlullah, the head of terrorist Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan went relatively unnoticed in Pakistan, it is a big achievement in the war on terror by the United States and its allies, including Islamabad. Fazlullah was killed by a US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-operated predator drone in eastern Afghanistan probably on June 13. Whomsoever may have eliminated him or whatever the manner of his perishing, the news of Fazlullah’s death must bring relief to all Pakistanis and must be a source of solace for the parents and relatives of those children and employees of the Army Public School who lost their near and dear ones in the ghastly terrorist attack launched on December 14, 2014. Fazlullah had claimed the responsibility of the APS Peshawar attack.


Since then, Pakistan security forces have been after Fazlullah. He was living in hiding in Afghanistan since the successful anti-terror in Swat, once occupied by militants belonging to Fazlullah’s TTP, in middle of the year 2009. After his fleeing in 2009, Fazlullah constantly changed his locations in Pakistan and, ultimately, he crossed over to Afghanistan and had been living in the eastern parts of the country along the Pakistani border. There have been allegations from Pakistan and independent reports also have been suggesting that Fazlullah and his bands of fighters have been given official support by the Afghan government or, more precisely, the Afghan security establishment. There is a lot of substance in these allegations because the Afghan security establishment has been trying to create maximum problems for Pakistan and Fazlullah was a lever in this regard. Afghanistan since long has been accusing Pakistan of supporting the Afghan Taliban, waging an insurgency in Afghanistan against the foreign forces and Afghan government. Thus, the Afghan security establishment has been trying to retaliate against Pakistan for the latter’s alleged support to the Afghan Taliban. However, there is a huge difference between Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. The Afghan Taliban justifiably have been waging a war of national liberation against foreign forces and what they regard as their stooge Afghan government because the foreign forces ousted the legitimate Taliban government (1996-2001) through “aggression.” Whereas, Pakistani Taliban have been a band of criminals, who once captured Swat under Fazlullah, then the head of Malakand-Swat chapter of the TTP, which was then spearheaded by Hakimullah Mehsud.


Fazalullah has been trying since his fleeing to Afghanistan to launch terrorist attacks inside Pakistan but he was not very successful, apart from the APS attack. At the same time, the TTP after the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone attack in South Waziristan, was facing infighting particularly between its Mehsud tribe members in South Waziristan. Due to disagreement to nominate a new member from the Mehsud tribe, whose inhabited territory in South Waziristan was the birthplace of the TPP in December 2007, Fazlullah was made Amir of the TTP by the group’s Shura. However, Fazlullah could not effectively organize the TTP as it had been during the days of the TTP founder Baitullah Mehsud and his successor Hakimullah Mehsud. The group has been prey to fragmentation and it had been getting weaker as time passed. This was primarily due to the fact that Fazlullah was not a genuine fighter but a created one. He was persuasive, due to which he attracted a lot of people, but his fighting skills have always been doubtful. It could be said Fazlullah was an accidental Taliban commander.


Nevertheless, the ruthless Fazlullah has been a constant danger living in Afghanistan and he may have been able to regroup the TTP. He was one of the founding members of the TTP and he once very effectively used his militants to capture Swat.


A complicating factor is the strenuous effort by the Afghan security establishment, particularly its intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) to make the IS in Afghanistan a counterforce to the Afghan Taliban and replenishing the ranks of the group through Pakistani Taliban given refuge in Afghanistan. The purpose of the NDS being to have the IS effectively replace the Afghan Taliban. In response the Afghan Taliban attacks against the ineffective and corruption-marred Afghan security forces have increased, including the Taliban’s biggest ever victory on the battlefield since their ouster in November 2001, by capturing the northern strategic town of Kunduz in September 2016. There has been a marked spike in the Afghan Taliban attacks since early this year, consequently forcing Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to offer peace talks after recognizing the group not as a militant outfit but as a political force and of late announcing a ceasefire with the Taliban. This situation has also compelled Afghan President Ghani, who could not overcome his own security establishment, give up the irrational and belligerent demeanour, he has been demonstrating with regard to Pakistan, particularly at the Heart of Asia conference in India. Instead Ghani has had to reach out again to Pakistan to attempt a solution to the insurgency of the Taliban in Afghanistan.


Pakistan’s response to Afghan requests has been measured and this resulted in the several visits of Pakistan’s top generals to Afghanistan, the most recent taking place in June this year. Both the sides, on this occasion, vowed to cooperate in eliminating terrorism from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Fazlullah was killed just a couple of days after Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa’s visit to Afghanistan. This reveals many things: most importantly, that Fazlullah was under official protection in Afghanistan. Pakistan must have demanded from Kabul action against him for further cooperation from the Pakistani side. Fazlullah was killed. This cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan is, indeed, welcome and if there is realization on both the sides that the menace of terrorism could only be eliminated through mutual support, this would a great leap forward. However, keeping in view the behaviour of the Afghan security establishment regarding Pakistan, one has doubts about continuous cooperation between the two sides.


At the same time, it must be noted that Fazlullah’s death occurred in a US drone attack and afterwards a US deputy secretary of state stated that Pakistan’s enemy is America’s foe and the killing of Fazlullah is the result of cooperation between Washington and Islamabad. Obviously, if Pakistan’s enemies would be targeted by US forces in Afghanistan this would have wholesome effects on both countries’ relations and would make the war on terror in the regional theatre more effective.


Fazlullah, hailing from a modest background, was the son-in-law of veteran cleric and Taliban sympathizer, Sufi Muhammad. The latter had founded the Tehreek-e-Nifaze-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) in the Malakand-Swat region of the KP province in the early 1990s and his group’s massive sit-ins were instrumental in the formation of Qazi courts in the region. Fazlullah rose from nowhere around 2004, and started extending his influence, specifically through his religions sermons delivered through an illegal FM radio station installed in a madrassa in the Mam Dheri area of Swat. He collected alms from the local people for his mesmerizing speeches to gullible people. Slowly and gradually, he organized his militants making use of the same donations given by the local people and started controlling territory. At one point in time, in early 2007, he had declared Sharia in Swat with himself the Amir.


The militants associated with Fazlullah had taken control of the area and would patrol in heavy vehicles fitted with heavy and sophisticated weapons. So Fazlullah was the founder of Talibanization in Swat. Most vivid manifestations of Talibanization in Swat was seen when the members of Fazlullah’s militia called “Shaheen commandoes” would flog and punish people found involved in “crimes.” Fazlullah also had announced the imposition of Usher (an Islamic land tax) urgently needed to run the affairs of his parallel administration.


Historical assessment of Fazlullah reveals that he was an accidental militant who was forced to lead the Taliban and establish a fundamentalist order in the Swat Malakand region, which inflicted ineffable misery on the people of the region, while his movement could not improve the living conditions and circumstance of even a small community. History would remember Fazalullah only as the bestial slayer of innocent school children.