Mullah Qari Fazlullah.
The chief spokesman for the Swat Taliban claimed that Mullah Qari Fazlullah is alive and said that the Taliban are prepared to retake Swat once the winter settles in. Meanwhile, the Taliban confirmed that Fazlullah’s deputy was killed during fighting last year.
“Taliban chief Fazlullah is alive, healthy and has never been wounded,” Muslim Khan told AFP.
Khan said the Swat Taliban leadership is intact and has gone underground to avoid the military operation.
“All of the Taliban leadership in Swat are alive and are in hiding with a strategy,” Khan continued, echoing statements made last week by Maulvi Omar, the chief spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud’s Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
“We will continue our jihad until the enforcement of Islamic sharia,” Khan said. “Army artillery and tanks cannot prevent us from achieving our objective.” Khan said the Taliban will retake Swat once the winter sets in and the routes become difficult for the military to use.
Last weekend, Fazlullah was heard on the radio for the first time after months of silence. Fazlullah threatened to punish Swat tribesmen who aided the military and government during the Swat offensive.
Fazlullah’s broadcasts are infamous for the anti-government screeds and the radical interpretations of Islam. He is nicknamed “Mullah FM” and “Radio Mullah” for pioneering the use of illegal radio broadcasts to promote his radical agenda.
The statements from Omar and Khan, and Fazlullah’s radio broadcast, put a dent in the military’s claim that Fazlullah was gravely wounded during fighting near his home town. The military said it obtained the information using signals intercepts.
Shah Doran confirmed killed
At least one senior Swat Taliban leader has been killed during the military offensive to clear the Taliban from Swat and the neighboring districts of Dir and Buner at the end of April.
In June, the Pakistani military said Shah Doran was killed during fighting in the Kabal region in Swat. Earlier this week, the Taliban confirmed Doran’s death, according to a report in AKI. Nearly two months ago, at the end of May, the Pakistani government had issued a $185,000 bounty for the capture of Doran.
Doran was Fazlullah’s deputy and was notorious for preaching radical, anti-government sermons on the Taliban’s radio programs. He also served as the senior military commander in Swat.
Doran is the only Taliban commander on the government’s wanted list to have been killed or captured. Fazlullah has a $616,500 bounty, while Muslim Khan and Ibn Amim, like Doran, have $185,000 bounties on their heads. Seventeen other Taliban commanders from Swat who have had bounties issued for their capture are still on the loose.
Since Doran’s death, Ibn Amim has been put in charge of the Taliban’s forces in Swat. Ibn Amin is the leader of the Tora Bora Brigade, one of the six known brigades in al Qaeda’s paramilitary Shadow Army. The Tora Bora Brigade has an estimated 1,500 fighters and participated in the invasion of neighboring Buner.
The Swat Taliban are estimated to have between 5,000 and 7,000 fighters in their ranks. The military claimed to have killed nearly 1,800 in Swat and neighboring Buner and Dir, while taking more than 160 casualties of its own. US intelligence officials have said the Pakistani estimates of enemy casualties are highly exaggerated and include civilians caught in the crossfire.
Background on the Malakand Accord and fighting in Swat
The fighting in Swat, Dir, Buner, and Shangla broke out earlier this year after a peace agreement with the Taliban failed. The agreement, known as the Malakand Accord, placed the Malakand Division and the district of Kohistan under the control of the Taliban. The Malakand Division comprises the districts of Malakand, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, and Chitral. Together with the neighboring Kohistan district, the Malakand Division encompasses nearly one-third of the Northwest Frontier Province.
The government signed the Malakand Accord with Taliban front man Sufi Mohammed, Fazlullah’s father-in-law, on Feb. 16 after two years of fighting that had put the Taliban in control of the district. During those two years, the military was defeated three separate times while attempting to wrest control from the Taliban. Each defeat put the Taliban in greater control of the district.
The peace agreement called for the end of military operations in Swat, the end of Taliban operations, and the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law, in the Malakand Division.
But the Taliban violated the agreement immediately after signing it, and proceeded to attack security forces and conduct armed patrols. The military remained silent while the government approved the Taliban’s demand for sharia throughout Malakand.
The government ordered a military offensive in Dir and Buner after enormous pressure from the US and other Western governments to stem the Taliban tide pushing toward central Pakistan. The Taliban advanced from Swat into Buner in early April and took over the district in eight days. The move into Buner has put the Taliban within 60 miles of Islamabad and close to several nuclear facilities and the vital Tarbela Dam. The Taliban also have moved into Mansehra and established bases and a training camp in the region.
Pakistani government and military officials have dismissed the Taliban threat to Islamabad and the country’s nuclear facilities, but at the end of April, the local Islamabad government ordered troops to deploy in the Margala hills just north of the city to block a Taliban advance, while the Haripur government beefed up security at the Tarbela Dam.