Uzbek theatre group teaches contemporary drama
Egypt announces arrest of al-Qaeda-linked terrorist cell
Afghanistan supports disaster victims
Friday prayer attacks kill 20, injure about 50
Fazlullah’s re-emergence termed not a big threat
A chilling reminder of Taliban’s ruthlessness, observers say
By Intikhab Amir
PESHAWAR – Militant leader Fazlullah, aka FM Mullah for his previous pirate radio broadcasts, has re-emerged as a problem for Pakistan, but officials say he has lost considerable reach and that Pakistani security forces are working to stop not just him but any cross-border infiltration of terrorists.
“Fazlullah does not constitute a serious challenge” and can be dealt with several ways, a former secretary of security for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Brig. (ret.) Mehmud Shah, told Central Asia Online. He mentioned tribal peace committees and better border patrols as two of the approaches.
Fazlullah once led the Taliban when the militants ruled the Swat Valley. Troops chased him out of Swat in 2009 during an anti-militant operation. He is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan.
As evidence that Fazlullah is again committing atrocities in Pakistan, officials pointed to a June 24 daylight attack, when about 100 militants ambushed a Pakistani army patrol in the Sabir Killay along the border with Afghanistan. A reported 17 soldiers and support personnel were abducted during the clash.
The Swat Taliban, led by Fazlullah, claimed responsibility and June 25 released a video showing the beheading of some of the captured soldiers. All 17 who were captured are presumed to have been beheaded.
“This is what they had been doing during their reign of terror in Swat Valley, and they adopted the same old tactic of terrorising the general public,” Shah said, referring to the beheadings.
During the Taliban’s two-year reign in Swat, Fazlullah’s men enforced their strict interpretation of Islam by publicly beheading policemen and other foes and flogging members of the general public.
“By beheading the soldiers, they have again given a message to the public about the Taliban’s return, spreading terror,” said Mansoor Khan Mehsud, director of research with the FATA Research Centre, an Islamabad-based think tank.
Fazlullah’s activities condemned, strength downplayed
Such actions are disturbing regional peace and creating lawlessness in the country, a political leader said. “The killing of innocent Muslims – civilians or soldiers – is neither permitted under Islam nor the law of the land,” said Haji Jalil Jan, provincial information secretary for Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Fazal (JUI-F). “Those who kill innocent people - we are opposed to their actions. JUI-Fazal does not support such elements. They are (not) doing any service to Islam or Pakistan.”
The JUI-F, a political party that has been suspected of supporting the Taliban in the past, condemns the killing of innocent people, he said.
Although it appears Fazlullah-led militants are again terrorising Pakistan, officials contend that he is nothing more than a disruption.
“Fazlullah and his men cannot take control of Swat Valley and Dir in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Bajaur Agency in FATA, but they certainly have the ability to create problems for the Pakistani security forces,” Mehsud said.
Fazlullah’s re-emergence complicates the military’s job, since it’s simultaneously battling Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Hakeemullah Mehsud, Shah agreed. However, he stressed that Fazlullah doesn’t present a major problem.
Although the exact number of militants under Fazlullah’s command is unknown, observers say he has recruited a good number of Swat Taliban members to serve under him in Afghanistan, Mehsud said.
“After the 2009 Swat military operation, several Taliban members under Fazlullah’s command took refuge in Afghanistan’s Nuristan and Kunar provinces, where they have safe havens along the Pakistani border (in areas) where the Afghan National Army and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have low presence,” Mehsud said.
Tribal lashkars provide a solution
The re-emergence of Fazlullah, Shah said, is not the only concern that has attracted the army’s attention.
“Intelligence reports suggest that similar attacks are expected from the TTP’s Faqir Mohammed in Bajaur Agency and Wali-ur-Rehman in South Waziristan Agency,” Shah said.
Against that backdrop, “An understanding has been reached between the Pakistani army and ISAF that the latter will take action to stop incursions into Pakistan from across Afghanistan, while the former would act against the Haqqani network,” Shah said.
And peace lashkars have been working to repel any attacks by Fazlullah or others.
For example, the Aman Lashkar peace force and security forces killed six Taliban intruders June 15 after they attacked a Pakistani security check-post at Din Darra in the Brawal area, Upper Dir, according to media reports.
Mamund Qaumi Lashkar members and security forces jointly repulsed a July 8 attack by militants from Afghanistan in the Kagga area, Bajaur Agency, Pakistani media reported. Two attackers were killed and eight were injured, according to news reports.
Similar tribal forces have been formed in Upper Dir’s strategically important areas, including Nusrat Darra, Din Darra, Gujaro Killay, Sanai Darra, and Shanger Darra.
“Each of the force consists of volunteers from villages that are situated in these areas,” Mehsud said.
While the army is expected to tighten the border with Afghanistan in the wake of the June 24 ambush, the tribal forces also can provide an answer to the “hit-and-run” attacks by the Taliban from across Afghanistan, Mehsud said.