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November 9, 2013

The rise, fall and rise of Fazlullah

 
November 9, 2013

ISLAMABAD: The rise of Fazle Hayat from a manual chairlift operator on the Swat River to a fiery Jihadi orator called Mullah Radio and his subsequent ascent to prominence as Pakistan’s most wanted and equally brutal terrorist has been like a roller-coaster ride.
Fazlullah became a household name in the Swat Valley due to the fierce resistance his privately-raised army gave to Pakistan Army when it had launched a military operation in the picturesque valley in October 2007 to eliminate the vast Jihadi infrastructure of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (Movement for Enforcement of Islamic Laws) and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Before joining hands with Baitullah Mehsud following the July 2007 Lal Masjid operation in Islamabad to become the Taliban Ameer in Swat, Fazlullah had been the Ameer of the Swat chapter of TNSM. Fazlullah is the son-in-law of Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the founder of the TNSM, which is an al-Qaeda-linked militant Wahabi organisation.
A resident of Mamdheray area in Swat, he was born on March 1, 1975 in the house of Biladar Khan, a Pakhtun from the Babukarkhel clan of the Yusufzai tribe of the Swat district. He passed his secondary school certificate from the village school and then took admission at the Government Degree College Saidu Sharif, Swat, from where he passed his intermediate exam. Till then, he was known as Fazle Hayat who finally became a daily wage earner – an operator of a manual chairlift on the River Swat. Having worked there for a few years, Fazle Hyat left Swat and went to Maidan town in Lower Dir district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to join the Jamia Mazahir-ul-Uloom — a religious seminary run by Maulana Sufi Mohammad.
Sufi first renamed his student as Maulvi Fazlullah and then chose him to be his son-in-law. Fazlullah returned to the Mamdheray area after completing his religious education and began imparting religious education at a mosque-cum-Madrassa. However, the fact remains that he is not a Mufti

(Islamic scholar), has no Madrassa certificate and has only received early religious education from his father-in-law with whom Fazlullah is not on good terms after having married the widow of his brother who was killed in a 2006 US drone attack. While tracking Fazlullah’s rise to prominence, one comes to know that like thousands of other TNSM activists, Fazlullah too travelled to Afghanistan in November 2001 [after the US invaded Afghanistan] along with his father-in-law, Sufi Mohammad, to fight alongside the Taliban there.
Upon their return home, Fazlullah was taken into custody by the Pakistani security forces along with Maulana Sufi Mohammad and his other comrades and sent to the central prison in Dera Ismail Khan. While Sufi was sentenced for 10 years, Fazlullah proved lucky – he was released after 17 months in prison despite charges of inciting youngsters to illegally cross the Pak-Afghan border to wage Jihad against the US-led Allied Forces. In the absence of Sufi Mohammad, Fazlullah came forward and emerged as a popular Wahabi militant leader through his activities in the Swat district, mainly using his clout as Sufi’s son-in-law.
While his father-in-law was behind bars, Fazlullah made his native village Mamdheray the TNSM headquarters and got it shifted from Kumbar, Dir to Mamdheray. The next step was the reorganisation of the TNSM. Fazlullah appointed two Shuras to assist him in decision making process. One was the Ulema Shura with several senior Swati clerics who used to advise him about religious policies of the group. The other Shura, called the executive body, was the highest policy making organ of the TNSM, having many ex-servicemen, including retired commissioned officers of the army, as its members. He further created his private army and named it as “Shaheen Commando Force” which was meant to establish his authority in Swat. His private army was quick to establish a parallel administration in the valley by dispensing summary justice besides regulating traffic and patrolling villages and towns.
Fazlullah then decided to enforce his own version of Islam in the valley by using his FM radio, becoming commonly known as ‘Mullah Radio’ in a big way. Being a fiery orator, Fazlullah attracted local people through his sermons and soon earned the support of women who urged their men folk to grow beards and donate money to his seminary. The essence of his sizzling speeches had been none other than the TNSM motto: “Shariah ya Shahadat (Islamic laws or martyrdom)”. He used to warn parents through his FM channel against sending their girls to schools unless they observe full Purdah (veil). Barbers in the area were under clear instructions not to shave beards, while shops were proscribed from selling CDs and music cassettes. He also ordered his followers not to administer polio drops to their children. Reason: the polio drop was part of a US-Zionist plot to render them sterile.
For Friday prayers, a vast strip of land had been levelled near the TNSM’s Mamdheray headquarters to accommodate a large number of people from almost all villages of Swat. After the Friday prayers, Fazlullah, who was fond of riding a black steed, used to make a riding show (with himself on a black horse) in the same ground, so that the people could have a glimpse of him. His rantings were typical of those subscribing to the intellectual tradition of the Taliban. Fazlullah had a fighting strength of 5,000, besides a 1,000-member Shaheen Commando Force that used to patrol the streets of Swat with guns placed on their vehicles. The situation took an ominous turn in July 2007 when Fazlullah joined hands with the TTP [led by Baitullah Mehsud at that time] and was made the Ameer of the Swat chapter.
Between 2007 and 2009, Fazlullah literally engineered the Taliban takeover of Swat and neighbouring districts and brutally ruled over a cowed civilian population. As his private army invaded the Buner district of the KP [despite having signed a peace agreement with the KP government] and advanced to just 60 miles from the federal capital, the Pakistan Army decided to intervene in October 2009 by launching “Operation Rah-e-Haq”. While Sufi was arrested and is being tried on sedition charges, Fazlullah fled to Afghanistan where he keeps shuttling between the Kunar and Nuristan provinces and occasionally carries out cross border ambushes against the Pakistani security forces.
In fact, the US Allied Forces withdrew from Kunar and neighbouring Nuristan provinces in 2009 after their outposts came under deadly attacks, therefore, giving a free hand to Fazlullah who enjoys the full backing of the Afghan intelligence. Therefore, his fall from grace in 2007 to his rise as the new Ameer of the country’s most fearful terrorist outfit must be quite disturbing for the Pakistan Army which had expelled his private army from Swat in 2009.

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