The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, an al Qaeda-linked group that has fought a brutal insurgency in Pakistan since 2007, named a new leader yesterday. The announcement came just six days after its previous emir, Hakeemullah Mehsud, was killed in a US drone strike. The swift appointment of Mullah Fazlullah is an indication of the Pakistani Taliban’s resiliency, and the tenacity that has characterized the movement since its founding in 2007.
The speed with which Fazlullah ascended is a clear sign of the Pakistani Taliban’s cohesive leadership structure that can quickly reach a consensus on the appointment of new leaders. Reports suggest that just one day after Hakeemullah was killed, more than 60 of the group’s top leaders and clerics gathered to begin the process of choosing a successor. And five days later after the process began, Fazlullah was chosen. In other words, contrary to claims made by Pakistani officials over the past several years, the group is not fractured or rife with leadership disputes.
Fazlullah’s appointment also indicates that the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan is not likely to cease its campaign against the Pakistani military and government as well as civilian targets. Fazlullah is as militant as his predecessor, if not more so. Among his first pronouncements was a vow that he would not negotiate.
While administering Swat from 2007 to 2009, Fazlullah ordered the murder of thousands of people and approved of the beheadings and torture of civilians. Fazlullah singlehandedly transformed Swat, once considered the Swiss Alps of South Asia, into a territory now infamous for bloodshed. In the past year, his forces assassinated the top general in Swat and attempted to murder a Pakistani schoolgirl for speaking out against the Taliban.
Fazlullah also is closely allied with al Qaeda. During his tenure in Swat, he encouraged al Qaeda to establish training camps and fight in areas under his control. One of his commanders, Ibn Amim, led one of al Qaeda’s paramilitary units in the region. The US later killed Amim in a drone strike.
Finally, Fazlullah’s appointment indicates that the Pakistani Taliban is no longer dependent on the South-Waziristan-based Mehsud clan to provide its top leaders. The group is now willing and able to appoint experienced leaders from other areas, which may complicate US efforts to neutralize the group. The US may need to expand its operations in Pakistan at a time when the international community and the government of Pakistan are calling for an end to the strikes.
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