Swat’s cruel, bitter runaway militant commander becomes TTP chief
Mullah Fazlullah was an activist of the student wing of Pakistan People’s Party in Swat’s Jehanzeb College, before he joined a madrassa. Then his views began to change.
Born Fazal Hayat, he changed his name to Fazlullah on the advice of his mentor and father-in-law Sufi Muhmmad, who also oversaw his radicalization.
After his Taliban-style insurrection in Swat and Malakand in 1994 was subdued by the military, Sufi Muhammad did not give up. He made headlines again when he took thousands of boys to fight on the side of the Taliban in Afghanistan after 9/11. Upon his return, he was arrested. Sufi Muhammad’s organization – Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi – was taken over by Fazlullah.
In 2005, Fazlullah began his own FM radio station and became notorious for his sermons urging violence, threatening the army, and banning girls schools, polio vaccination and satellite dish antennas. The locals began to call him Mullah Radio.
Fazlullah brutally killed everyone he disagreed with – from ideological opponents to women singers, hanging their bodies from poles after summary executions
In 2007, he formed an alliance with Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. A temporary ceasefire that year helped him consolidate his strength and control in the area. A ruthless militant commander, Fazlullah brutally killed everyone he disagreed with – from ideological opponents to women singers, hanging their bodies from poles, after summary executions, in the Green Square of Mingora, which began to be known as the Bloody Square.
His reign of terror came to an end when Pakistan Army launched an operation in the valley in May 2009. He fled to Afghanistan, and has been operating from the Kunar province since then.
Fazlullah’s selection as the head of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is important for two reasons. Firstly, his arrival may signal the end of the planned peace process between the government and the Taliban, because the operation against his group in 2009 began after a peace deal broke down. Secondly, it is for the first time that the Taliban leadership shifted from the mountains of Waziristan to the settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
This change has already caused cracks in the ranks of the TTP and some Mehsud commanders have openly expressed their displeasure at the decision of the Taliban shura (council).
Shehzad Alam, a veteran journalist based in Swat, has conducted more than a dozen interviews with Fazlullah. He describes the militant leader as “an aggressive man coming from a humble background”.
“He stood nowhere in the social system of the valley and with the sudden fame and power, he wanted to take revenge,” Shehzad Alam said. Although known as Maulana and known for his fiery speeches – Malala Yousafzai writes in her book that even her mother was influenced by his narrative in the beginning – Fazlullah is not a religious scholar. He did not complete his madrassa education, dropping out of the 3rd level out of a total of eight.
In 2007, he formed an alliance with the TTP; a temporary ceasefire that year helped him consolidate his strength and influence in the area
Alam said Fazlullah was “not a man of peace”. He will not hold talks with the government. Instead, he will try to launch more attacks in the country. The military had tricked his spokesman Muslim Khan, he said, when they invited him for secret talks and captured him. Muslim Khan was known as “the butcher of Swat”.
Amongst the reasons Fazlullah was chosen as the Taliban’s new emir was that he orchestrated the attack on child activist Malala Yousafzai and the recent killing of Swat GOC Maj Sen Sanaullah Niazi.
The news of his return has sent shockwaves in Swat. School teacher Ibrahim recalls the time when people would listen to the radio in silence, waiting to see who it was that the Taliban would announce to kill next. “He is a ruthless person,” he said about Fazlullah, “who does not hesitate to misinterpret Islam to justify his wrongdoings.”