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 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

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Mertze Dahlin   

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November 8, 2013

Hardliner Mullah Fazlullah chosen as new leader of Pakistani Taliban

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

The Pakistani Taliban Thursday elected Mullah Fazlullah, a fiery cleric from Swat, to succeed Hakimullah Mehsud who was killed in a US drone attack on November 1. Sheikh Khalid Haqqani from Swabi was elected as his deputy by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Alarmingly, the TTP leadership has been moved from the volatile tribal belt to the so-called settled districts of Pakistan. Mullah Fazlullah is the first leader not to come from the Mehsud or Wazir tribes – which dominate the TTP – or even the tribal areas - while Sheikh Khalid Haqqani is also from the  settled region of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwah.

According to retired brigadier Mahmood Shah, a former secretary of FATA, Fazlullah’s appointment had “completely changed dynamics of the Pakistani Taliban. “Fazlullah was ousted from Swat valley, his hometown, and he is living in Afghanistan. He is wanted by Pakistan, so can he run the organization smoothly from other side of the Durand Line (border with Afghanistan)?” Shah said.

Mullah Fazlullah led the Taliban’s two year rule in Pakistan’s northwest valley of Swat in 2007-2009 before a military operation retook the area. Since the operation in Swat, Fazlullah took shelter in Afghanistan.

Pakistan says Fazlullah has directed attacks on its soil from across the border. His men were blamed for beheading 17 Pakistani soldiers in a check post attack in June 2012. He is also said to be involved in the high profile killing of Major General (retd) Sanaullah Khan Niazi, General Officer Commanding Swat, in Upper Dir in an IED blast, in September 2013. However, the Pakistan Current Affairs reported that a Powerful Country was behind the death of Major General Sanaullah Niazi, to sabotage the peace process between the government of  Pakistan and the Taliban. "This Powerful country does not want the peace talk so the country kept an eye on the movement of Major General Sanaullah Khan Niazi via Satellite and informed militant groups in Pakistan about his movements," the Pakistan Current Affairs said.

The choice of Fazlullah by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) ruling council appears to have sunk government plans for peace talks to try to end the six-year bloody insurgency. Mehsud and his allies had been tentatively open to the concept of ceasefire talks with the government, but Fazlullah’s emergence as the new chief changes that picture.

TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said the new leader was against peace talks. “Holding of peace talks is not even an issue to discuss - this government has no authority, it is not a sovereign government, it is a slave, a slave of America. Holding peace talks is a waste of time,” Shahid told AFP.

“There will be no more talks as Mullah Fazlullah is already against negotiations with the Pakistan government,” spokesman Shahidullah told Reuters. “All governments play double games with us. In the name of peace talks, they deceived us and killed our people. We are one hundred percent sure that Pakistan fully supports the United States in its drone strikes.”

The killing of Mullah Fazlullah's predecessor, Hakimullah Mehsud came as government representatives prepared to meet the TTP with a view to opening peace talks.

The failure of both drone strikes and Pakistani military operations in the FATA tribal areas to stem the tide of terrorism had led to a decision by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to try a political dialogue with the Taliban. But the drone strike that killed Mehsud stopped the peace talks before they could begin.

According to Gareth Porter of Inter Press Service, the CIA had an institutional grudge to settle with Mehsud after he had circulated a video with Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, the Jordanian suicide bomber who had talked the CIA into inviting him to its compound at Camp Chapman in Khost province, where he killed seven CIA officials and contractors on Dec. 30, 2009.

The CIA had already carried out at least two drone strikes aimed at killing Mehsud in January 2010 and January 2012.

The killing of Hakimullah Mehsud and election of Mullah Fazlullah would certainly trigger another round of retaliatory TTP suicide bombings in Pakistan’s largest cities.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America.