Swat Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah and the rest of the group’s most senior commanders have escaped the Pakistani government’s operation, a Taliban spokesman said.
Mullah Omar, a spokesman for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, denied reports from the government and the military that Mullah Fazlullah had been gravely wounded during airstrikes in his home town of Imam Dehri.
“Fazlullah is safe and the government claim is totally baseless,” Omar told Pakistani journalists. He also said the Taliban leadership had gone underground “as part of their overall strategy” once the Army launched operations in Buner, Dir, and Swat, Daily Times reported.
An unconfirmed report in the BBC seemed to corroborate the government’s claims that Fazlullah is near death.
“He is now stranded in Imam Dehri without any access to medical assistance and is close to death,” a local Swati with purported connections to the Taliban told the BBC. He also stated that Shah Doran, Fazlullah’s second-in-command, who, like his boss, is infamous for his radical sermons and death threats issued on illegal FM radio channels, had been killed. But Doran’s death has not been confirmed, either.
Omar’s statements were made as Fazlullah released an audiotape to the Pakistani media. Fazlullah also stated that the Taliban leadership is intact and his forces would continue to fight for the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law.
So far, the government has failed to kill or capture Fazlullah, Doran, Ibn Amin, Muslim Khan, and 17 other most senior lieutenants who have bounties on their heads for information leading to their capture.
And although the military claims that the Swat Taliban’s second and third tier leaders have been wiped out, strong resistance remains in the district despite the military’s declaration that the operation has been completed. The military has also said, however, that its forces will remain in Swat as the Taliban remains strong in some pockets.
While efforts to kill or capture the Swat Taliban’s senior leaders falter, the government recently released Sufi Mohammed, the pro-Taliban cleric behind the Malakand Accord, who is also Fazlullah’s father-in-law. The Malakand Accord amounted to an admission of the government’s defeat and emboldened the Taliban to seize more territory in the northwest.