Getting hold of Fazlullah

Published: October 18, 2011
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Regardless of its justifiable anger with Pakistan over the Haqqani network, it would be in the interests of the US to take on the former Taliban chief of Swat.

Regardless of its justifiable anger with Pakistan over the Haqqani network, it would be in the interests of the US to take on the former Taliban chief of Swat.

From the day the Twin Towers fell on 9/11, the same mantra has been endlessly repeated to Pakistan: it must ‘do more’ in the fight against terrorism. Finally we have the opportunity to say the same thing to the US. After the army operation in Swat in 2009, local Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah fled to Afghanistan, and is now based in Nuristan province. He is operating freely and unhindered, using Nuristan as a launching pad for attacks in Dir (which straddles Swat)and other border areas. In addition to bombings, Fazlullah is also believed to be responsible for a spate of kidnappings in Fata. Given how dangerous his presence is, it is entirely appropriate that Pakistan has asked Isaf forces in Afghanistan to tackle Maulana Fazlullah.

Of course, some may see the request as being motivated by other considerations as well. In recent weeks, the US has ratcheted up the pressure on Pakistan to take on the Haqqani network, based in North Wazirstan. Pakistan is quite clearly trying to draw a parallel between its refusal to fight the Haqqani network and the Isaf forces’ decision to ignore Fazlullah. Just as the Haqqani network is using Pakistan only as a base to launch attacks in Afghanistan, Fazullah is doing the opposite. Our message to Isaf will be seen by many to be this: if you can leave Mullah Fazlullah alone because he is not responsible for attacks in Afghanistan, then we can do the same with the Haqqani network.

As pleased as the government may be with this strategy, it has one fatal flaw. The US and its allies in Afghanistan have never been accused of actively colluding with Fazlullah, a charge that has been levelled several times against Pakistan with regards to the Haqqani network. Beyond the point-scoring, though, it is undeniable that he and his Swat Taliban have been able to regroup in Nuristan and are now as dangerous as ever. But unless the Pakistan and the US governments can work out a quid pro quo, Fazlullah will continue to gain in strength. Regardless of its justifiable anger with Pakistan over the Haqqani network, it would be in the interests of the US to take on the former Taliban chief of Swat.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (4)

  • Cautious
    Oct 18, 2011 - 11:05PM

    Regardless of its justifiable anger with Pakistan over the Haqqani network, it would be in the interests of the US to take on the former Taliban chief of Swat
    .
    Unfortunately when the USA moves in to attack they can simply retreat across the Pakistani border — this problem isn’t going to be resolved without coordination between the USA and Pakistan. It’s worth noting that the USA has requested joint operations against the Taliban on various occasions but has been turned down so there isn’t going to be much sympathy from the USA or the World for that matter.

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  • Santosh
    Oct 19, 2011 - 12:52AM

    Fazlullah’s attacks on the Pak Army prove in substance what the rest of the world has long been telling Pak – that cherry-picking terrorists as “strategic assets” is a dangerous folly. While much of this editorial raises good points, the conclusion is not backed up by a logical argument.

    Regardless of its justifiable anger with Pakistan over the Haqqani network, it would be in the interests of the US to take on the former Taliban chief of Swat.
    It would be premature for the US to take on Fazlullah, while the Paki Army resists action on the Haqqanis. While Fazlullah is no asset of the US or of Afghanistan, he serves as a great reminder to Pakistan that it cannot be an ally in the war on terror only when convenient. Fazlullah must be decisively dealt with only after Pakistan stops treating the Haqqanis as a “veritable arm”.

    While Pak has long claimed that an Afghan government friendly to Pak is of its strategic interests, Fazlullah serves to educate the Pak Army that it needs to reciprocate by first being friendly to Afghan interests before making any such claim.

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  • vasan
    Oct 19, 2011 - 7:10AM

    Why are the pashtuns in Afganistan providing shelter to Radio mullah. What about all the claims of Pakistan that the pashtuns across the borders are Pakistan pro opinionated etc. Something fishy here.

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  • Fuyu
    Oct 19, 2011 - 12:58PM

    @Santosh: If you look at the US State Dept’s website, its list of foreign terrorist organizations even today does not include the Haqqanis but it does include the TTP. Pakistan’s pressure on the US to go after Fazlullah existed before the US started this whole noise over the Haqqanis, so your whole argument falls flat on its face. Even now, the Haqqanis are the de facto rulers of 3 of Afghanistan’s provinces (which are complete no-go areas for US troops) while they move about freely in four more. That’s why it would make much more sense for the US go wrest those 7 provinces before talking about North Waziristan.
    You talk about Afghan interests that Pakistan must care for. Please note that Afghanistan is bitterly divided internally and its government is a puppet artificially installed by the US so a state whose writ does not extend beyond its capital city is in no position to define what its interests are and what they aren’t. As long as Afghanistan makes territorial claims inside Pakistan it should expect continued Pakistani intervention.

    @Cautious: You talked about US proposals for joint operations that Pakistan rejected. Were those joint operations supposed to be conducted only against Pakistan-based insurgent groups, or did the US ever propose that Pakistan could also launch joint operations alongside US troops against terrorists based in Afghanistan?

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