Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Pakistan Taliban chooses new leader

The Pakistani Taliban have chosen for its leader the man who planned the attack on Malala Yousafzai, reports say.

The Pakistani Taliban has chosen the ruthless commander who planned the attack on teenage activist Malala Yousafzai as its new leader and ruled out holding peace talks with the government.

Mullah Fazlullah was unanimously appointed the new chief by the Taliban's leadership council, or shura, after several days of deliberation, said the head of the shura, Asmatullah Shaheen Bhitani. Militants fired AK-47 assault rifles and anti-aircraft guns into the air to celebrate.

The decision came less than a week after a US drone strike killed leader Hakimullah Mehsud in the North Waziristan tribal area near the Afghan border.

Even though Mehsud was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistani civilians and security forces, his November 1 killing outraged Pakistani officials. They accused the US of sabotaging the government's attempt to strike a peace deal with the militants - although many analysts doubted a deal was likely.

The government said the drone strike came a day before it planned to send a delegation of clerics to formally invite the Pakistani Taliban to hold peace talks.

Bhitani, the Taliban shura leader, ruled out holding peace talks with the government, accusing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of selling out the group when he met President Barack Obama in Washington on October 23.

"We will take revenge on Pakistan for the martyrdom of Hakimullah," Bhitani said by telephone from an undisclosed location in North Waziristan, where the shura met.

Pakistani officials have criticised U.S. drone strikes in public, saying they violate the country's sovereignty and kill too many civilians. But the government is known to have secretly supported at least some of the attacks.

Fazlullah has served as the Pakistani Taliban's leader in the northwest Swat Valley but is believed to be hiding in neighbouring Afghanistan. He rose to prominence through radio broadcasts demanding the imposition of a harsh brand of Islam, earning him the nickname "Mullah Radio."

His group began to infiltrate the valley in 2007 and spread fear among residents by beheading opponents, blowing up schools, forcing men to grow beards and preventing women from going to markets. A military offensive in 2009 pushed the group out of the valley, and Fazlullah escaped to Afghanistan.

Fazlullah and his group carried out the attack on teenage activist Malala Yousufzai, who was shot in the head while on her way home from school in October 2012. She was attacked after speaking out against the Taliban over its interpretation of Islam, which limits girls' access to education.

The shooting sparked international outrage. Malala was flown to the United Kingdom, where she underwent surgery to repair the damage to her skull. She has emerged as an even more vocal critic of the Taliban and advocate for girls' education, earning her many international awards. She delivered a speech at the United Nations in New York and was considered a front-runner for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

Fazlullah also claimed responsibility for the deaths of a Pakistani army general and two other soldiers in a roadside bombing near the Afghan border in September. The killings outraged the military and raised questions about whether the Taliban had any real interest in negotiating peace.

Fazlullah is the first leader of the Pakistani Taliban not to come from the Mehsud tribe based in the South Waziristan tribal area.

AP

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