Where is Radio Mullah? Is he alive or dead? These two questions are now doing the rounds among the civil and military establishments of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US because the man has suddenly become the most crucial factor in the Afghanistan-Pakistan cauldron, overshadowing for the time being the Haqqani network and the internecine strife-torn Afghan Taliban.
Both the Pakistani and the US establishments think that he is the principal brain behind the recent mayhem at Charsadda’s Bacha Khan University.
Mullah Fazlullah is the chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP). In considerable stretches of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), as well as to the NATO forces, he is popularly known as Radio Mullah for the shrill and vituperative fundamentalist Islamic broadcasts he has carried out over his illegal FM transmitter for quite a few years. There is also a great deal of confusion over recent media reports that he has been killed by a drone attack in Afghanistan. Neither the Pakistan government nor the TTP has confirmed this.
Previously also, there were reports of his demise. But each time, Fazlullah surfaced – mocking at the US and western Europe based media organizations. Therefore, observers are taking the latest news of his death with a pinch of salt. If he survives, then there will be much more trouble for Pakistan.
Born Fazal Hayat in 1974, Fazlullah hails from the Yusufzai tribe of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and has a very pedestrian background, unlike his two more famous predecessors – Hakimullah Mehsud and Baitullah Mehsud. In his early days, Fazlullah used to sell wooden shutters, did various odd jobs and used to roam the lanes and bylanes selling sundry articles from a pushcart.
But the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the political dynamics of the fundamentalist bloc in Pakistan changed his life. At a time when the mujahideen warlords of Afghanistan were fighting the Soviet troops, great churning was taking place in the tribal belts of Pakistan where the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) came into confrontation with the more conservative and hardline Tehrik-e-Nehfaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammed(TNSM) led by Maulana Sufi Mohammed. The TNSM was all for immediate imposition of Sharia law over whole of Pakistan and this organization ultimately led the Taliban uprising in the northern parts of Pakistan.
From the very beginning, Fazlullah was a frontline figure in the TNSM. Although both the JeI and the Deobandi group in the Taliban subscribe to the Hanafi jurisprudence, yet JeI’s stress on political Islam and electoral participation led to a wide chasm between it and the Taliban. While Sufi Mohammed led a ragtag armed cadre force into Afghanistan to fight the Soviet army, the JeI only protested against Soviet occupation but sat back inside Pakistan.
Today, Fazlullah is credited with not just mass murders but individual elimination of quite a few senior generals of the Pakistani Army, an institution he counts as one of his main enemies. He was previously reported to be the most diabolical among all the frontline TNSM activists and engineered killings of several senior JeI leaders also when internecine strife was going on between the two organizations inside Pakistan.
But a strange aspect is that while the Afghan Taliban has got itself divided into many factions after the death of Mullah Omar, Fazlullah’s control over the TTP is comparatively solid – although he does not come from Pakistan’s tribal belt and is not a Mehsud, the most powerful of all the factions that make up the TTP. Perhaps this has been possible due to the total Taliban control that he could establish in the Swat valley from 2007-2009 and the extreme savagery and religious fundamentalism he could exhibit.
Fazlullah has many savage exploits and neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan can think of any negotiated settlement till he is around. He earned the sobriquet Radio Mullah for the hate speeches he used to make over his illegal transmitter against the Americans, female education and Pakistan’s programme of polio vaccination, which he described as a conspiracy to make people impotent. He called television and the computer un-Islamic and ordered the shooting of Malala Yusufzai, and an activist for female education who not only survived but when on to share the Nobel Peace prize.
Still, in spite of Fazlullah’s more or less wide acceptance in the Taliban, the TTP has developed fractures. Fazlullah’s right hand man in the TTP now is Umar Mansoor who had arranged the logistics for the attack on the Bacha Khan University. But Mansoor is not liked by some sections of the organization and that is the reason behind Mohammed Khorasani, the official Taliban spokesman, disapproving of the attack on the university. However Fazlullah himself is known to have supported the attack as “universities prepare recruits for the army”.
Fazlullah’s cherished target was General Ashfaque Pervez Kayani, the former Pakistani Army chief. So far he has failed to eliminate him. But he has succeeded in killing at least two army bigwigs – Major General Sanaullah Niazi and Major General Javed Iqbal – who played leading roles in military operations against the Taliban.
Radio Mullah, a creation of Pakistan itself, has now become a Frankenstein. Will Pakistan really be able to marginalize him?
(02.02.2016 – Amitava Mukherjee is a senior journalist and commentator. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at email@example.com)