A new leader – but still the same, violent Taliban

  • @omarwaraich

With Mullah Radio becoming the new head of the Pakistani Taliban, the militants have signalled their intention not to negotiate a peaceful settlement to their conflict with the Pakistani state.

Mullah Radio – also known as Mullah Fazlullah – was notorious for his sulphurous sermons, broadcast across local FM waves during his reign over the Swat Valley.

Under his control, the Taliban thrashed barbers for shaving beards, punished DVD owners for promoting “vulgarity,” and killed dancing girls, dumping their bodies in the public square.

Politicians like former cricket legend Imran Khan have said they see no alternative to talks. But Fazlullah is a reminder of the hazards of capitulating to the Taliban.

In 2009, the government imposed Islamic law in Swat and nearby areas, according to his wishes. But the Taliban refused to put down their guns. Instead, they expanded their campaign of violence, pushing into areas like Buner. That triggered alarms worldwide about a Taliban march to Islamabad – just 55 miles away, as the crow flies.

Fazlullah’s ascent also complicates relations in the neighbourhood. The militant leader is currently skulking near the Kunar river in Afghanistan. There, Pakistani generals allege, Afghan officials are protecting him. The two countries accuse the other of sheltering each side’s enemies as leverage.

The generals are also not likely to brook any concessions towards a man they believe is being backed by a hostile neighbour. In their eyes, that would be rewarding treason, further diminishing the prospect of successful talks.

It is possible that, under Fazlullah, the Pakistani Taliban will grow weaker. He isn’t a member of the powerful Mehsud tribe from South Waziristan, as the previous two leaders were. He also has powerful rivals from different tribal areas and the northwest.

It seems the only thing that is clear is that the Taliban’s violence will sadly continue.