On 13th June, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Chief Mullah Fazlullah was killed in a US drone strike in the Afghan province of Kunar. Amidst previous unconfirmed reports of his death, this time around both Afghan and American authorities have confirmed his death.
Born in the 1970s, Fazal Hayat (who later was known as Fazlullah), joined the madrassah run by Sufi Muhammad and later married one of Muhammad’s daughters. He was impressed when Muhammad launched Tehrik Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) in the 1990s. According to media reports, he got his first fighting experience when he joined Muhammad-led lashkar (army) of volunteers to fight in Afghanistan in late 2001.
Following the arrest of Muhammad in late 2001, Fazal Hayat, who himself had spent about 17 months in jail, tried to fill the vacuum created in Swat’s militant movement. He changed his name to Fazlullah in the 1990s to bolster himself as an Islamic leader. He initially taught Holy Quran to children but his preaching took a new turn with the launch of his unauthorized FM radio channel in 2004. Apart from instructing to pray five times a day and avoid sins, he preached hate speech against Americans, a misconstrued version of Jihad, female education and the polio vaccine. Because of his fiery radio speeches, he earned his nom de guerre ‘Radio Mullah’. His radio speeches virtually carried an appeal for everyone and contributed to his initial support in Swat valley.
During his 2007-2009 reign in Swat, public beheadings and beatings were commonplace. Women were discouraged from going outside and were forced into marriages. Men were forced to grow beards and numerous girls’ school were closed.
In retaliation to Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) Operation, he called upon his supporters to take up arms and joined TTP. During his 2007-2009 reign in Swat, public beheadings and beatings were commonplace. Women were discouraged from going outside and were forced into marriages. Men were forced to grow beards and numerous girls’ school were closed. During his reign in the valley, Pakistani government entered into two peace agreements with him, but those agreements could not last long and always ended up with a military operation.
With the launch of Operation Rah-e-Raast (Right Path) in May 2009, Fazlullah fled Swat and took refuge across the border in Afghanistan. Operating from Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan, he carried out a number of high-profile terror attacks which include the shooting of Malala Yousufzai (October 2012) and bomb blast targeting Maj. Gen. Sanaullah Niazi (September 2013).
Following the killing of Hakeemullah Mehsud in November 2013, Fazullah was appointed supremo of TTP. Infact, he became the first non-Mehsud Chief of the terror outfit. TTP, under his command, claimed responsibility for a number of high profile terror attacks which are as follows:-
- January 19, 2014 – Attack on FC compound in Bannu (25 killed and 27 injured)
- January 21, 2014 – Attacking bus carrying Shia pilgrims in Mastung, Balochistan (28 killed and 31 injured)
- June 8, 2014 – Karachi Airport attack (28 killed and 22 injured)
- December 16, 2014 – APS Peshawar attack (151 killed and 120+ injured)
- September 18, 2015 – PAF Badaber base attack (29 killed and 22 injured)
In early 2015, Fazlullah was designated as a terrorist by the US, United Nations and European Union. The killing of Fazlullah in Afghanistan once again proved that senior leadership of anti-Pakistan terror outfits are operating from Afghanistan. Prior to Fazlullah’s killing, numerous leaders of anti-Pakistan terror groups were killed in Afghanistan. Some of the high profile leaders are as follows:-
- February 2016: Zakir Kambar Khel (Deputy commander of Lashkar-e-Islam)
- July 2016: Khalifa Umar Mansoor (Head of TTP’s Umer Mansoor Naray group) – Claimed responsibility for attacks on APS Peshawar, Bacha Khan University and PAF base Badaber
- July 2016: Mangal Bagh (Head of Lashkar-e-Islam)
- October 2016: Qari Ajmal (Senior leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi) – Responsible for attack on Sri Lankan cricket team
- March 2017: Qari Mohammad Yasin (Top commander of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi) – Responsible for attacks on GHQ and Sri Lankan cricket team
- October 2017: Umar Mansoor (Head of TTP’s Tariq Geedar group) – Responsible for APS Peshawar attack
- December 2017: Abdul Rauf (Senior commander of Jamaatul Ahrar)
- February 2018: Khalid Mehsud (Deputy head of TTP)
Analysts view killing of Fazlullah as a major development between Pakistan and Afghanistan. This development came just hours after the recent visit of Pakistani Army Chief to Afghanistan where Fazlullah was the main topic of discussion. Experts believe Pakistan is likely to reciprocate Fazullah’s killing by playing an important role on Afghan reconciliation process in near future. Analysts are of the opinion that the killing of Fazlullah is seen as major improvement in terms of cooperation between Islamabad and Washington regarding Afghan reconciliation process.
Experts believe Pakistan is likely to reciprocate Fazullah’s killing by playing an important role on Afghan reconciliation process in near future.
With the elimination of Fazlullah, his deputy Noor Wali Mehsud is most likely to assume the leadership of TTP. Mehsud was TTP’s Karachi Chief from June 2013 until May 2015. He authored the book “Inqilab-e-Mehsud” in which he claimed to have assassinated former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. However, there are unconfirmed news reports that Abdur Rahman Fateh has been appointed as a successor to Fazlullah. Hailing from Swat, Abdur Rahman Fateh, is non-tribal, which makes his chances of becoming Chief very slim.
The elimination of Fazlullah will serve as a major blow to TTP and will be seen as a source of demotivation for TTP fighters. However, the elimination of Fazlullah will not decrease the terror threat emanating from Afghanistan, as it still remains home to Jamaatul Ahrar, Hizb-ul-Ahrar and Khorasan Province of Islamic State.
Fahad Nabeel is currently pursuing M.Phil in International Relations from National Defence University. He has graduated in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Virtual University of Pakistan. Fahad has considerably researched on regional geo-political issues and militancy trends. Currently, he is working as a Senior Research Associate at CSCR.