Days after the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) announced Mullah Fazlullah as its new chief, newspaper reports on Thursday said that the faction’s deputy chief Sheikh Khalid Haqqani would in fact be its operational head in Pakistan.
With the death of former chief Hakimullah Mehsud, and the remoteness of new chief Fazlullah who is currently in Afghanistan, Haqqani has been appointed the functional chief responsible for the organisation’s day-to-day undertakings.
Haqqani hails from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s Swabi district. With Fazlullah, a Swat Valley native, and now Haqqani at the helm of the TTP’s affairs, it is the first time that the group’s leadership comprises men from urban areas and not from Fata.
In October 2008, he was also involved in a failed suicide attack targeting the president of the Awami National Party, Asfandyar Wali Khan, in Charsadda. He was once described by the TTP’s media wing as a close associate of Hakimullah and Qari Hussain Mehsud.
According to reports, tribal circles rejected rumours of Fazlullah’s return to Fata after his appointment as TTP chief. They explained that while Fazlullah expressed his desire to return to Pakistan, he was advised against returning because of the US drone programme in Waziristan.
Fazlullah is believed to be in his base in Nuristan, a thickly forested Afghan region favoured by militants hiding from drones. “He is a non-resident commander, he is not present physically,” an intelligence source told Reuters. “But he has two advantages: He’s got a lot of money and he has Afghan support.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 15th, 2013.