Radio Mullah re-emerges as security threat

Published: June 28, 2012
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Fazlullah's men control a 20-km stretch in Afghanistan described by nearby US troops as 'the dark side of the moon'. PHOTO: REUTERS / FILE

Fazlullah's men control a 20-km stretch in Afghanistan described by nearby US troops as 'the dark side of the moon'. PHOTO: REUTERS / FILE

ISLAMABAD / PESHAWAR: Shortly after sneaking across the Afghan border this week, more than 100 militants loyal to Pakistani Taliban leader Fazlullah waited patiently on a mountain for Pakistani troops to approach. 

Several days later, the fighters released a video of what they said were the heads of 17 ambushed soldiers, along with their identification cards.

Laid across a white sheet, they were a chilling reminder of the major security threat the man once known as FM Mullah still poses to US ally Pakistan, three years after the army pushed him out of the Swat Valley.

“He is a very big problem for Pakistan,” said a Western diplomat.

During his heyday, Fazlullah, who like many senior Taliban members is known as a mullah, or preacher, organised thousands of fighters who roamed picturesque Swat, imposing his radical version of Islam.

Opponents, and those deemed immoral, were publicly flogged, or even beheaded and hung in squares and at intersections. Girls’ schools and government buildings were burned down.

Nowadays, Fazlullah’s men control a 20-km stretch of the rugged and largely unpatrolled border with Pakistan from areas in Afghanistan’s forbidding Nuristan province, described by nearby US troops as “the dark side of the moon”.

From there, Fazlullah, a burly man in his thirties with a heavy black beard, plots cross-border raids that do not kill many soldiers but agitate Pakistan’s military, which thought it had defeated him during a Swat offensive in 2009.

His activities in the border area, described by US President Barack Obama as the world’s most dangerous place, could complicate efforts to stabilise the region before most foreign combat troops leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Big ambitions

Fazlullah is a distraction for Pakistan’s military, which is also fighting Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistan Taliban umbrella group blamed for many of the suicide bombings across the country.

Sirajuddin Ahmad, Fazlullah’s spokesman and cousin, said the group’s aim was to recapture Swat, and take control of Pakistan.

“The establishment of Sharia (Islamic law) is our goal, and we will not rest until we achieve it. We will fight whoever stands in our way,” he told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan.

Fazlullah has slowly rebuilt his militia by securing shelter and support from Afghan militants in an area where groups form loose alliances against the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“He is extremely dangerous,” said a Pakistani security official. “Fazlullah has 150 men, rocket-propelled grenades and light machine guns. You just need a small amount of men to carry out effective operations. This is a big number.”

Fazlullah, once known for fiery radio sermons, was the first Taliban leader that took control of an area in Pakistan outside the ethnic Pashtun tribal belt along the Afghan border.

There are no signs that he will be able to penetrate deep inside towns or cities. His men usually arrive in a big wave, attack and retreat back into Afghanistan.

But his operations have prompted Pakistan’s military – one of the world’s largest – to repeatedly urge the Afghan government and Nato forces to go after the militant leader.

On Monday, Pakistan protested to Nato and the Afghan military, accusing them of failing to act against militant havens in Afghanistan after the cross-border attack in which the Pakistani soldiers were killed.

Nuristan police chief Ghulamullah Nooristani says there are no signs that anyone intends to eliminate Fazlullah, even though he was creating havoc for people there, charging illegal taxes, stealing supplies from trucks and sometimes killing drivers.

“We can’t attack them because they are armed with light and heavy weapons which are much better than ours,” he said. “If we get support from the central government or coalition forces we will be able to destroy their strongholds.”

Fazlullah’s fighters usually slip across the border into Pakistan at night and take positions on high ground.

“We have patrols and vehicles moving in the area to guard the border, so they wait and try to ambush them,” said a Pakistani intelligence official.

Intelligence officials say Fazlullah’s men operate in the Afghan provinces of Nuristan and Kunar, and enjoy the support of hundreds of militants there. Support goes both ways when it comes to fighting the US-backed governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Some militants have long-standing bonds. “Many of us know each other from before, as we studied in the same madrassas (religious seminaries),” said a commander of a militant group in Kunar.

“When we need to conduct an operation in Afghanistan, we request help and they give us fighters. When they need to conduct an operation, we provide them with assistance as well.”

Few experts expect Fazlullah to make the kind of gains he seems determined to achieve. But he is making a big impact.

“Their aim is to carry out these cross-border attacks which don’t just take a toll in terms of casualties, but also have a psychological impact,” said Mansur Mehsud, a director at the FATA Research Centre, an independent think tank in Islamabad.

“They reinforce the fear of the Taliban in the local population there. The people that help the government and the army would be very worried because of this, fearing revenge.”

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Huma Shah
    Jun 28, 2012 - 4:25PM

    so what are the US, NATO and the Afghan Govt doing to deal with and finish this??

    Recommend

  • Babloo
    Jun 28, 2012 - 5:03PM

    There is no problem. Pak interior minister said that the leadership has been eliminated !

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  • NK
    Jun 28, 2012 - 5:10PM

    They are going to do the same what Pak is doing to deal and finish Haqqanis!

    Recommend

  • Cautious
    Jun 28, 2012 - 6:30PM

    “Many of us know each other from
    before, as we studied in the same
    madrassas (religious seminaries),”

    Any other country would have figured out that closing down those madrassas that spread violence is a requisite part of any solution. Time to step up to the plate.

    Recommend

  • Pakhtun Khan
    Jun 28, 2012 - 6:35PM

    He will not survive if he enters Pakistan. People of swat will lynch him. He has a blood of thousands on his hands.

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  • LionOfPunjab
    Jun 28, 2012 - 6:37PM

    Sirajuddin Ahmad, Fazlullah’s spokesman and cousin, said the group’s aim was to recapture Swat, and take control of Pakistan.
    The establishment of Sharia (Islamic law) is our goal, and we will not rest until we achieve it. We will fight whoever stands in our way,”
    .
    .

    Dear TTP,
    No need to use violence against army to achieve your above mentioned goals . Vote for PTI and IK you will get all the things you have asked for!!

    Recommend

  • dpd
    Jun 28, 2012 - 7:09PM

    Where are the drones? Let the drones do the work here!!!!

    Recommend

  • Jun 28, 2012 - 7:50PM

    We dislike to consider when they say,
    many of the extremists attacks in Afghanistan
    are proposed,financed and plotted in Pakistan,
    and carried out by militants ,who comes across the porous border.

    Now they turned their guns toward our own forces,it is very considerable
    situation,keeping in mind the ground realities we should revisit our polices.

    It is essential for both the countries sit together and have detailed discussion
    on the security matters and interests.

    It is time to move forward repair relations already strained between the allies.

    Recommend

  • Jun 28, 2012 - 9:07PM

    We are dead enemy of those who are enemies of our Armed Forces.
    Who kill deliberately a soldier of a Muslim State,and express reason
    by hypocrisy we are not ready to accept him as Muslim.

    The country,Pakistan, has been secured on the name of Allah.and they
    are destroying this Islamic state on the name of Allah.
    There is unbridgeable distance between their and our islamic vision.

    The vision ,according to which,killing of innocent is justified is not acceptable.

    Recommend

  • Jun 28, 2012 - 9:15PM

    We can stand against the supper power on the killing of our soldiers,
    why can we not stand against those who killed our 17 army.
    We should come out from our houses and face them and kick them
    out from this Islamic State,they deserve no sympathy.because they
    are infidels not Muslims.

    Recommend

  • Jun 28, 2012 - 9:32PM

    It is no secret that these terrorists have been operating from their safe havens and waging attacks against our forces. And for that reason, we have been emphasizing cross border coordination between the regional partners. The U.S, Pakistan and Afghanistan are all victims of terrorism. The current situation requires us to be on the same page in regard to operations against our common enemies. The terrorists are certainly not waiting for the U.S. and Pakistan to overcome their differences. In fact, it is easy to see that they are taking full advantage of our differences and furthering their evil agenda by infiltrating the region with terrorism. We must target these terrorists from all ends, and that is only possible through joint cooperation. We must get ourselves out of the blame game and realize that we are faced with a common threat that is preventing us from bringing peace and stability to the region. We have come too far and made too many sacrifices to let these terrorists succeed with their evil mission. We must look past our differences and combine our strength to eliminate the threat that is haunting the region.

    Recommend

  • Basit
    Jun 28, 2012 - 10:30PM

    If Haqqani safe haven in Pakistan means Pakistan is complicit in Haqqani attack, TTP safe havens in Afghanistan must mean that NATO is complicity in TTP attacks.

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  • Jun 29, 2012 - 12:06AM

    This brutal act is violation of teaching of Quraan,
    violation of fundamental principle of Islam,
    being muslims,they are going against muslims,
    who says they are muslim, no they are not.

    Recommend

  • Jim Jones
    Jun 29, 2012 - 1:04AM

    I don’t get these people. Why can’t they start a political party and behave as civilized people? By bombing and beheading soldiers you will never fulfill your dream of a Pakistani Sharia state. It must be the weather that makes them hot headed.

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  • vigilant
    Jun 29, 2012 - 2:41AM

    why not to test a missile at his hidding place???

    Recommend

  • zain
    Jun 29, 2012 - 4:57AM

    i fail to understand one thing! what are nuclear weapons made for? why do we need to wait to use it against india? why dont just hit mullah radio and others with a big bang! i know people would be concerned about collateral damage! but america has killed over thousand innocent civilians in drone attacks, 35,000 plus pakistanis have died in bomb attacks in the past 7 years. lets be a little selfish for our future generations and use our weapon of mass destruction.

    Recommend

  • Imran Con
    Jun 29, 2012 - 8:40AM

    @Huma Shah:
    Probably waiting on you to do what they’ve been requesting for years. Common sense and integrity being catered to obviously doesn’t effect Pakistan. It’s been a long time pattern that Pakistan only reacts to getting the shoe put on the other foot. This is one more for the record books. There is plenty of other things that can be concentrated on in Afghanistan. Why put lives on the line when it’s not only not reciprocated, but you don’t even care? Chances are many even celebrate it in private when Haqqani goes into Afghanistan. At least you’re just on the receiving end of exhaustion of patience turned to apathy rather than hate mongering.

    Recommend

  • Jun 29, 2012 - 5:16PM

    Days are numbered of all those,
    killed and beheaded the soldiers
    by ambushed.

    Where the infidels can go,they can not cross the limits of glob.
    they can not go beyond the corner of the earth.

    Pakistan army with unique support of the nation approached them
    and brought them before the order of the day.

    It is enough opening eyes of all those who understand them true Muslims
    they are notRecommend

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