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The return of Fazlullah

Enter Mullah Fazlullah. His choice as the new head of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has significance that must be seriously examined. Unlike Baitullah and Hakeemullah, his droned predecessors, he is not a Mehsud and his operational base has not been Waziristan. He has been hiding in Afghanistan. What do these and other factors really mean in the context of how the Taliban phenomenon is interpreted in Pakistan?

In the first place, Fazlullah is a somewhat known quantity. Our memory of his reign of terror in Swat has just been refreshed by the global focus on Malala Yousafzai and her book ‘I Am Malala’. And what happened in Swat and how the situation had to be dealt with finally should be present to our rulers. But we cannot be sure if they have learnt their lessons and are able to look through smokescreens they may have themselves created.

For instance, are they still able to make a distinction between the ‘good’ Taliban and the ‘bad’ Taliban? Essentially, of course, they should be very worried about the impact of the Taliban mindset across Pakistan if the militants are not forthrightly defeated, in all senses of the word.

The point I am making is that the return of Mullah Radio or FM Fazlullah, to invoke our Swat memories, is a message that our political leaders and analysts should diligently decode against the backdrop of the overall crisis of Pakistan. Look around and you will see how things have continued to fall apart. On Friday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited the earthquake affected Awaran district in Balochistan and the operation-hit Karachi and this highlighted other threats posed to the very survival of Pakistan.

In addition, this is that critical time in the month of Muharram when sectarian conflict acquires a larger sense of urgency. I was relieved to hear the prime minister referring to sectarian terrorism when he met media persons in Karachi because this is something that is generally not discussed in a candid manner. It is also necessary to find its linkages with the jihadi enterprise that was originally conceived by our own security establishment.

In the midst of all these predicaments, how have our politicians responded to the change in the TTP’s leadership? What has engaged their minds the most? We have some evidence of what our leaders have been doing and saying in the headlines they have made in the media. However, if you find the situation very depressing, you can trust your leaders to provide some comic relief.

First, there is this emotionally charged issue of who can be designated as a ‘shaheed’ and who is unworthy of this high honour that is supposed to carry a divine sanction. As it is, a subeditor in an Urdu newspaper is often agonised by the problem of identifying fatalities in a terrorist attack. Some must be classified as ‘shaheed’. Others have to be recognised as ‘jaan ba-haq’ or, simply, ‘halaak’. It can be tricky because the deceased Muslims belong in a different category than the non-believers.

Anyhow, Munawwar Hasan, chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami said that he considered Hakeemullah a ‘shaheed’ and later also suggested that a Pakistani soldier who dies in combat on the same side as the Americans is not a ‘shaheed’. But the prize for making the most outrageous statement in this respect goes, of course, to Maulana Fazlur Rahman. He upstaged all the other headline-seekers when he said that even a dog would be ‘shaheed’ if it is killed by America. Not only that, he has defended his remark.

You can imagine how these assertions would distract the attention of the people and incite the entire religious lobby into a debate. Fatwas were issued. We had joint statements by clerics of all colours and creeds. Amusing though it all has been, thinking about the influence that these leaders have makes you shudder.

As for the leaders of the mainstream parties, they have not been less frivolous in how they have reacted to the problem of dealing with the Taliban and their terrorist activities. It was painful to see the PPP leading a protest against the interior minister on the basis of figures he had presented of civilian deaths in drone attacks. There was this street theatre – a session of the Senate in the open, though this protest ended on Friday.

My point is that the PPP leaders should have realised that drones do not constitute the main issue. The spotlight must remain on atrocities committed by the terrorists. Drones have killed a number of terrorists wanted by Pakistan.

Last month, The Economist published a report to say that many residents of the tribal areas “see drone attacks preferable to the artillery barrages of the Pakistan military”. It quoted an elder from North Waziristan as stating that “no one dares tell the real picture” as drone attacks “are killing militants who are killing innocent people”.

I have said at the outset that we should study the Swat episode to understand not only the character of Mullah Fazlullah but also the dynamics of dealing with the militants. If you look into the Swat mirror, you should be able to figure out the strategy that will have to be finally adopted to deal with the insurgents. After all, a peace deal had paved the way for the final outcome but precious lives were lost during the period the militants were allowed to reign supreme.

It was Fazlullah who ordered the attack on Malala. Fortunately, she has lived to tell her tale. It is a very credible, personal account of what it was like when the Taliban took control of the Swat valley. When she wrote the book with Christina Lamb, Malala could naturally not have known that Fazlullah would return to the scene in this manner. Now, her account has become very relevant.

This is just a brief excerpt: “The bodies would be dumped in the square at night so that everyone would see them the next morning on their way to work. There was usually a note pinned to them saying something like. ‘This is what happens to an army agent’, or ‘Do not touch this body until 11 a.m. or you will be next’. On some of the nights of the killings there would also be earthquakes, which made people even more scared as we connect every natural disaster with a human disaster”.

The Taliban extended their influence in Swat during 2007-2009 and the army action that followed was very hazardous. It was in July 2009 when the government declared that the Taliban had been cleared from Swat. But it was in 2005 when Fazlullah started his FM radio. What is the message here?

The writer is a staff member

Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail. com

Ghazi Salahuddin, "The return of Fazlullah," The News. 2013-11-10.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political leaders , Sectarian violence , Taliban , Militants , Terrorism , Munawwar Hasan , Hakeemullah Masud , Waziristan , Afghanistan , Swat , TTP