Mullah Fazlullah, born as Fazal Hayat, has humble origins. He was a ski-lift operator, who abducted and later married the daughter of Maulana Sufi Muhammad, the founder of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), which was banned by the Government of Pakistan. Not having received formal education, yet he stepped into Sufi’s shoes after his arrest in January, 2002 and assumed leadership of the banned TNSM and changed his own name to Fazlullah, to add credible religiosity to his facade.
His infamous broadcasts on a portable FM radio airing his fiery speeches—extolling virtue and deprecating vice and promising speedy justice through Sharia courts—initially attracted people earning him the title of “Mullah Radio. However his true visage of a ruthless psychopath, brutally killing and slaughtering people, torching schools, hospitals and government buildings was soon exposed.
In 2007, after the Lal Masjid debacle, Mullah Fazlullah joined forces with Tehreek-e-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP) to wreak havoc against Pakistan. Fazlullah set up a parallel government in Swat, banned female education, shutting down 400 schools, cold-bloodedly attacking military and police posts, till the Pakistan Army launched a major offensive.
In May 2009 Army’s operation “Rah-e-Rast” resulted in wresting control from the Taliban while Mullah Fazlullah escaped to find refuge in Afghanistan, from where he has been directing terror attacks against Pakistan. He had taken responsibility for ordering the attack on Malala Yousafzai. Earlier this month, after the TTP Commander Hakimullah Mehsud was eliminated in a drone attack, Mullah Fazlullah was appointed as the new head of TTP. Although he is not a Mehsud yet he was chosen as the TTP leader because of his connections with foreign agencies, brutal demeanour and close contact with Afghan Taliban Amir, Mullah Omar.
Fazlullah’s selection as the new head of TTP has little consequence and only confirms his status as a non-state actor with power motives and an insatiable agenda. Courage is not one of his virtues; he deserted his followers in Swat when faced with the army crackdown. He has been resurrected through generous funding and incessant supply of arms to launch terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. His morals are also questionable because he targeted the women and children in Swat and earned world condemnation for targeting Malala Yousafzai and her schoolmates for their quest for education.
Most analysts perceive Fazlullah as acting at the behest of his foreign masters to destabilize Pakistan. Directly after taking up the mantle of TTP Chief, he denounced peace talks with the Government of Pakistan and renewed the threat of wreaking havoc on Pakistan to avenge Hakimullah Mehsud’s killing through US drone strike.
Fazlullah’s return should be taken with a pinch of salt. Although a number of religious right wing parties are indirectly hailing him by declaring the master of carnage and slaughter Hakimullah as a martyr, Fazlullah should not be of serious concern to the Government of Pakistan and the Law Enforcing Agencies (LEAs) since his past transgressions are well known and documented and his future actions are also predictable. All stakeholders in Pakistan are fully cognizant of his hypocrisy and double standards; as one who propagates Islamic laws but violates all norms and values of Islam to gratify his power motives. The pseudo Mullah had collected funds from the trusting and innocent people of Swat and strengthened his financial position and build a Madrassa worth Rs. 250 million to train terrorists.
It must be understood that TTP is based in North Waziristan, where Fazlullah’s support base is limited. Reportedly, the TTP which comprises a motley group of terrorists are already grumbling against the selection of Fazlullah as their leader, since they wanted the next chief also from the Mehsud tribe and their majority had voted for Khan Saeed Sajna. There is a strong likelihood of a rift between TTP rank and file and Fazlullah could end up becoming a victim of his own comrades’ machinations, who resent his rise.
A segment of media is also speculating regarding Hakimullah Mehsud’s targeting to be through the connivance of Government of Pakistan. Hakimullah Mehsud was successfully targeted by the US drone strike because of accurate information provided by Latifullah Mehsud, the TTP second in command, who was arrested by US forces in Afghanistan and revealed the secret location of Hakimullah Mehsud to US investigators to get head money of Hakimullah Mehsud from US.
The writer is a former group captain of PAF, who also served as air and naval attaché at Riyadh. Currently, he is a columnist, analyst and host of programme Defence and Diplomacy on PTV.