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Ear to the Ground

Pakistani Taliban’s New Boss Mullah Fazlullah Sticks to the Hard Line

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Posted on Nov 7, 2013
AP/B.K. Bangash

People watch a news report on TV about newly selected Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah at a coffee shop in Islamabad on Thursday.

The Pakistani Taliban have chosen a new permanent leader, Mullah Fazlullah, whose appointment suggests that the militant group isn’t interested in forging diplomatic ties with the Pakistani government anytime soon.

Fazlullah’s ascension to the top post of the Pakistani Taliban, which was made official Thursday, happened six days after his predecessor, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed in a U.S. drone attack in North Waziristan.

On Nov. 3, Mehsud’s absence was temporarily remedied by Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, who served as interim leader as the group’s higher-ups huddled to choose their next chief.

Fazlullah has already established his reputation as a staunch Islamist via radio broadcasts and by his role in directing the shooting that nearly killed Pakistani schoolgirl-turned-activist Malala Yousafzai last year.

Prior to Mehsud’s death, the Pakistani government had been angling to meet with the local Taliban for peace talks, but those have apparently been scuttled. According to the BBC, Fazlullah has rejected the administration’s overtures, and Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudry Nisar Ali Khan blamed the drone attack for “the death of all peace efforts”:

Prior to the latest Taliban announcement, the BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad said that Mullah Fazlullah was not a member of the Mehsud clan and, if appointed, would face a challenge to control the Mehsud fighters, who make up the bulk of the Taliban’s manpower.

The Taliban’s ruling council took seven days to reach a decision.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had come to power in May pledging a negotiated settlement to the insurgency, but militant attacks continued.

The government said a delegation had been due to fly to North Waziristan to discuss peace talks with Hakimullah Mehsud but he was killed in the drone strike the day before.

There had been some hope a new leader of the Taliban would be more open to the peace initiative.

—Posted by Kasia Anderson.

 

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