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Al-Qaeda’s chosen one

The appointment of Mullah Fazlullah as TTP chief will see an escalation in violence in Pakistan.

Written by Khaled Ahmed |
November 16, 2013 1:39:30 am

The appointment of Mullah Fazlullah as TTP chief will see an escalation in violence in Pakistan

On November 7,2013,the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) gathered,probably in the Kunar province of Afghanistan,and declared Mullah Fazlullah the next TTP chief,after the death by drone of the earlier chief,Hakimullah Mehsud. He was confirmed in office by the Afghan Taliban chief,Mullah Umar,who is considered “amirul momineen” (caliph) by the TTP rank and file. This took no time,because Fazlullah is the chosen one of al-Qaeda,which was not too pleased by initiatives among some of the TTP factions to engage in peace talks with Islamabad.

Fazlullah was small-time till Lal Masjid — an al-Qaeda watering hole where the Pakistani “deep state” communicated with terrorism — happened in Islamabad in 2007. His father-in-law,Sufi Muhammad,had led a movement of pure sharia for many years and participated in the post-Soviet-withdrawal Afghan war with 8,000 warriors,all taken captive by northern warlords and sold,tortured and slaughtered in the tradition of wars in Afghanistan. Fazlullah,a dacoit battening on a colossal timber theft in Swat,had forced a weak provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to allow his father-in-law’s sharia in Swat in 2008.

The Lal Masjid revolt in 2007 by pro-al-Qaeda clerics was suppressed by the Musharraf government,which led to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri practically declaring war on Pakistan by his act of founding the TTP. Fazlullah unleashed a reign of terror in Swat,slaughtering,beheading and group-hanging innocent Swati,who thought he would enforce Islamic punishments. Most Muslims are obsessed with “quick justice” but actually want to dispense with “due process” in modern adjudication. The video of the whipping of a girl in public by a Taliban commander brought things to a head in 2009.

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The army chief,General Ashfaq Kayani,who succeeded Musharraf,heeded parliament and attacked Swat,making Fazlullah run away with his cohorts,which included Uzbek marauders sent in by al-Qaeda. Fazlullah broke his legs during his flight to the Kunar province in Afghanistan,but was soon well enough to attack and make the Pakistan military’s control in Swat look fragile. He nearly killed schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai last year,booby-trapped and killed a general this year,and has sworn to kill Kayani after becoming the TTP chief. Kayani,retiring this month,has no stomach left for a fight with the TTP and

al-Qaeda,but is focused professionally on ousting India from Afghanistan. His army’s interface with the TTP-al-Qaeda combine will be life-threatening for him even after retirement. It’s safer to face-off with India and the US,one a regional and the other a global power.

In 2007,the “naib” (deputy) imam of Lal Masjid declared that the security personnel killed in an explosion in the Swat valley in May that year had suffered the death of infidels,and openly praised Fazlullah without arousing the ire of anyone in Islamabad. Amir Siddiqui,recently appointed by the Supreme Court,no less,was addressing the press club in Islamabad,talking to journalists completely won over by al-Qaeda after successfully removing from the scene Pervez Musharraf as the “criminal who had dared desecrate the Red Mosque”.

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Mullah Fazlullah is charismatic but,compared to the deceased Hakimullah,is cleverer and better-spoken. Hakimullah was good-looking in the modern sense; Fazlullah is handsome in a medieval way. He is equally if not more violent than Hakimullah,and has a better reputation with al-Qaeda,which is able to call the shots because more than

40 groups of the TTP can’t always agree among themselves. Hakimullah’s pathology of violence was vented on the Shia in Orakzai and Kurram agencies,the cities of Hangu,Dera Ismail Khan and Kohat,which was then extended by another ally of al-Qaeda from Punjab — the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi — to Balochistan,Punjab and Karachi.

The Shia were not target number one of al-Qaeda — because the Shia of Pakistan are equally gratifyingly America-hating — even though its war with Iran inside Iraq and Syria is currently on. Hakimullah offended further by talking of peace with Pakistan,and his death by the drone has finally given al-Zawahiri the chance to take the TTP leadership out of the Mehsud tribe of North and South Waziristan and give it to a wilder Yousafzai of Swat. Ironies abound. Yousafzais are supposed to be soft — that is,more civilised — because of their contact with visitors/ tourists to Swat. Their “Pakhto” is a bit different from the “Pashto” of the non-Yousafzais of Waziristan and Afghanistan — there are practically no Yousafzais in Afghanistan. But tribal identities are receding in

the face of Islam,the banner of al-Qaeda.

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Hakimullah was a moron compared to Fazlullah,who is probably more of a butcher than Hakimullah,judging by what he did to the people of Swat from 2007 to 2009 when he ruled there. He is going to embarrass the politicians and the army with his fresh wave of attacks because no one in Pakistan favours going after the TTP. The army is more focused on ousting India from Afghanistan after the exit of the Americans and wants the elected government to use trained civilian forces to fight the war against elements once mustered and trained by it.

The TPP has many gangs that get together under one flag because of al-Qaeda’s patronage and financial handouts from the Gulf to their coffers. Yet,there is a central “treasury” the late TTP chief Baitullah Mehsud had left behind,and which his successor Hakimullah had acquired later by intimidating Waliur Rehman,the treasurer. Before they both succumbed to the drones,they had their marauding gangs in Karachi,looting banks and kidnapping people for ransom to keep their war chest brimming.

Hakimullah had acquired a palatial house in North Waziristan,with two wives,and he may have been killed because he,unlike his predecessor,took to resting more in one place than was safe. However,the question of the treasury will be raised and Fazlullah’s reign will be affected by it if the funds are not put at his disposal. Of course,one reason the TTP doesn’t want “peace” is that it may curtail its remit of plunder in the cities of Pakistan. Fazlullah will need a lot of money in the days to come and there is no money for guessing where he will get it from.

Will Fazlullah be allowed to come and live in North Waziristan? The Pakistan army has stationed 100,000 troops there,but is somehow unable to separate the killer TTP from the Haqqani network,which it wants to nurture at the cost of 50,000 innocent people killed by the suicide-bombing terrorists of Taliban-al-Qaeda. Fazlullah has killed Pakistani soldiers and has a head money; but so had Hakimullah. The new ancillary killer,Adnan Rasheed,is an ex-air force officer and is killing the Shia and Pakistani troops under the banner of Ansarul Mujahideen for al-Qaeda. He will be asked to liaise with the new leader. There will be no clear command line; but under Fazlullah,violence will escalate.

Al-Qaeda and the Pakistan army are both faced with the problem of taming their non-state actors enough to carry out their global and geopolitical programmes. Al-Qaeda is the global player while the Pakistan army obsesses about India. Fazlullah will hasten the endgame for Pakistan whose economy is winding down and whose population has chosen all the wrong enemies so they can avoid looking directly at the real one.

The writer is a consulting editor with ‘Newsweek Pakistan’

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First published on: 16-11-2013 at 01:39:30 am
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