Followers of Maulana Qazi Fazlullah gather in a village in Swat. AP Photo.
Just one week after the Taliban fought the Pakistani military to a standstill in the al Qaeda safe haven of North Waziristan, the military has deployed over 3,000 paramilitary forces from the Frontier Corps, Frontier Constabulary, and Frontier Reserve Police to the settled district of Swat in the Northwest Frontier Province. The troops have purportedly been sent in to quell the activities of the Maulana Qazi Fazlullah. The Pakistani government negotiated a peace accord with Fazlullah in May of 2007 which essentially turned control of the district to him.
Fazlullah and his followers openly rule large swaths of the district of Swat. The provincial home secretary said “the government had lost its writ in 59 villages and supporters of the cleric had set up a parallel government,” Dawn reported. “The cleric had over 4,500 armed volunteers, he had set up an armed wing called Shaheen Force and established courts… foreign militants and members of the banned organisations were also hiding in the troubled area.”
In early October, Fazlullah formed the volunteer Shaheen Commando to “control the law & order” in Swat. Fazlullah’s commandos, said to number in the thousands, patrolled in trucks with machines mounted in the beds, and enforced sharia law.
The Pakistani troops are reported to have deployed to the hilltop of the rugged terrain, but have not begun combat operation. Fazlullah “told followers on his FM radio that troops had been deployed to kill innocent people” and “denied that he had challenged the writ of the government and set up a parallel administration.” He said if attacked, his commandoes would “kill many people” and should “attack security forces and members of a Swat jirga.”
On October 10, Fazlullah threatened the government if it launched combat operations in Swat. “We will give a befitting answer. We are peaceful citizens. We have picked up arms for our own defence and protection and not against the law and order or the government,” the Daily Times reported. “We will sacrifice our lives to maintain peace in the region.”
Fazlullah is a 28-year-old radical cleric and leader of the local outlawed Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM – the Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad’s Sharia Law), also referred to as “the Pakistani Taliban.” The TNSM sent over 10,000 of its fighters into Afghanistan to fight US forces in 2001 before the fall of the Taliban. Fazlullah is nicknamed Maulana FM Radio due to his operation of an illegal FM channel where he preaches jihad and campaigns against girls’ schools and polio vaccinations. Fazlullah also conducts campaigns where he organizes the burning of television sets, digital and video cameras, computers and other electronics as they are a “source of sin.”
See The Fall of the Northwest Frontier Province for the full history of the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal regions and beyond.
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