Ruthless. Ruthless is what Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Mullah Fazlullah, killed in a drone strike in northeastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, enjoyed the reputation of being.
The slain TTP supremo, killed alongside four associates in a strike executed by a remotely-piloted American aerial vehicle in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, was forever willing to leave no stone unturned in his quest for enshrining an uncompromising interpretation of Islamic law. Fazlullah, infamous as “Mullah Radio”, presided over a two-year Taliban rule in Swat that saw offenders being decapitated and schools being razed.
Born in the valley’s Fazal Hayat area, Fazlullah read at a seminary. He worked as a chairlift operator and traded in firewood before joining his father-in-law’s Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM). Under Taliban rule, Mingora’s Green Square became infamous as “Bloody Square” for the slaughtered, bullet-ridden bodies placed there almost daily.
After the US-led forces entered Afghanistan in 2001, Fazlullah joined thousands who crossed the border to fight what they termed a “holy war” against “infidels”. Arrested on his way back to Pakistan but later released on bail, “Mullah Radio” stepped into his father-in-law’s shoes after the latter was jailed. His incendiary sermons attacking girls’ education and anti-polio initiatives earned him the aforementioned epithet in 2006.
After the military mounted an operation to clear Islamabad’s Lal Masjid, Fazlullah merged the TSNM with the then fledgling TTP. As he strengthened his hold over Swat, “Mullah Radio” presided over “Sharia courts” handing down barbaric ‘verdicts’.
In 2009, an 11-year-old Swat girl began chronicling life under the Taliban. The TTP attempted to kill her in October for campaigning against them. The girl, shot in the head, survived and went on to become a global icon. While Malala Yousafzai would go on to court international fame, Fazlullah would flee to eastern Afghanistan after the military’s successful Swat operation. From his Afghan refuge, “Mullah Radio” would orchestrate attacks across Pakistan.
In September, soon after Pakistan’s political parties backed a government plan for peace talks with the Taliban, Fazlullah’s men responded with violence. A bomb attack killed two senior army officers, including a major general, in the country’s northwest, a galling blow for the military. Fazlullah claimed the attack in a video message in which he spelled out his hardline position.
Fazlullah also green-lighted the heinous 2014 Peshawar carnage wherein gunmen strode through Army Public School corridors and classrooms spraying teachers and pupils with bullets. The men killed 148 people – at least 132 of whom were children.