South Waziristan Taliban leader Mullah Nazir [bottom-center].
An influential Taliban leader in South Waziristan who is favored by the Pakistani military and government has become the second Taliban leader to order a halt to polio vaccinations in areas under his control due to objections over US drone strikes in the tribal areas.
Mullah Nazir, the leader of the Taliban in the Wazir tribal areas who is known to shelter top al Qaeda leaders and who has called himself a member of al Qaeda, said the polio vaccination program is being used by the US to spy against terrorist groups and conduct drone strikes in the tribal areas.
“Polio and other foreign-funded vaccination drives in Wana sub division would not be allowed until US drone operations in the agency are stopped,” a pamphlet issued by Nazir stated, according to Dawn.
“In the garb of these vaccination campaigns, the US and its allies are running their spying networks in FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Agencies] which has brought death and destruction on them in the form of drone strikes,” the pamphlet continued.
Nazir referenced Dr. Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who aided the US in finding and killing Osama bin Laden. Afridi is currently serving a 33-year prison sentence for charges of supporting the Laskar-e-Islam, an Islamist terror group based in Khyber.
The pamphlet called Afridi a “traitor” and said his use of the vaccination program to find bin Laden was evidence that “infidel forces are using media, education, and development as a tool to gag Muslims.”
Nazir’s edict banning polio vaccinations is very similar to a decree issued by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the leader of the Taliban in North Waziristan, who also shut down the anti-polio program in his tribal agency. In mid-June, Bahadar issued a statement that linked the polio vaccination program to drone strikes and Dr. Afridi, and said the program would not resume until the US air campaign ceased. [See LWJ report, ‘Good’ Taliban commander halts polio vaccinations over drone strikes.]
Both Nazir and Bahadar now follow in the footsteps of Mullah Fazlullah, the erratic commander of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s faction in Swat, who has also ordered a ban on polio vaccinations. Fazlullah claimed that the anti-polio campaign was a Western plot to sterilize Muslims.
Background on Mullah Nazir
Nazir has openly supported Taliban emir Mullah Omar and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and wages jihad in Afghanistan. In an interview with the Asia Times, Nazir rejected claims that he opposed al Qaeda, and affirmed that he considered himself to be a member of the global terror organization. Pakistan’s military and intelligence services consider Nazir and his followers “good Taliban” as they do not openly seek the overthrow of the Pakistani state.
Several top al Qaeda leaders, including Ilyas Kashmiri, Abu Khabab al Masri, Osama al Kini, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, and Abu Zaid al Iraqi, have been killed while being sheltered by Nazir. [For more information on Nazir and al Qaeda leaders killed while under his protection, see LWJ reports, ‘Good’ Pakistani Taliban leader Nazir affirms membership in al Qaeda, and US drones kill ‘good’ Taliban commander in South Wazirstan.]
Mullah Nazir’s Taliban faction is one of four major Taliban groups that have joined the Shura-e-Murakeba, an alliance brokered by al Qaeda late last year. The Shura-e-Murakeba also includes Hafiz Gul Bahadar’s group; the Haqqani Network; and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which is led by Hakeemullah Mehsud and his deputy, Waliur Rehman Mehsud. The members of the Shura-e-Murakeba agreed to cease attacks against Pakistani security forces, refocus efforts against the US in Afghanistan, and end kidnappings and other criminal activities in the tribal areas.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.