Return of the Radio Mullah?

In keeping with the Nuristan theme, I thought I’d add a small detail that was left out of the story on Sunday.

Maulana Fazlullah, nicknamed the “Radio Mullah” after he launched a pirate radio station in Pakistan’s Swat Valley in 2006, is apparently still hiding in Nuristan despite claims that he was killed in May 2010.

When US special forces and Afghan commandos air assaulted into Nuristan’s Barg-e-Matal district earlier this year (after insurgents had overrun the district centre for the fifth time), one of the US-Afghan units involved in the operation landed inside one of Fazlullah’s bases, according to western security analysts and an intelligence official.

The Afghan commandos killed 25 militants and captured five Swatis during the raid on Fazlullah’s compound, according to one of the analysts with access to Nato incident reports. A Nato press release said the combined force found anti-tank mines, ammunition, 50 rocket propelled grenades and fake commando uniforms. But Fazlullah (who wasn’t mentioned in the press release) had already fled.

Fazlullah, who Pakistan branded a prime suspect in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, is famous for setting up his own parallel government in the Swat Valley. By late 2007, he had 59 villages under his control. Islamic courts enforced his strict interpretation of Sharia.

During his rule, music shops were burned down, televisions were destroyed and barbers who shaved their customers’ beards were intimidated. During each of his nightly radio sermons, Fazlullah used to reel off a list of extra prohibitions. He also read out the names of men he wanted to behead for violating these rules.

Fazlullah, who is the leader of Tehrik-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), was chased from Swat in 2007 by Pakistani security forces after a cease-fire agreement broke down.

In 2009, the BBC reported on claims that Fazlullah was near death, having been badly wounded during on-going fighting in Swat. TNSM denied the claims. Then, in May 2010, reports surfaced that Falzullah had been killed during clashes with Afghan security forces in Nuristan’s Barg-e-Matal district.

Countering these claims, analysts and an intelligence official said Fazlullah currently flits between Nuristan and the Bajaur tribal agency in Pakistan.

“He wants a base in Nuristan,” said one. “There were former Pakistani military trainers in the district at the time of the operation. Perhaps they’re helping him so he doesn’t return to Pakistan and cause more chaos.”

Fazlullah is just one among a toxic mix of militants (Lashkar-e-Taiba, Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Hezb-e-Islami fighters) to have taken advantage of the security vacuum in Nuristan and neighbouring Kunar province.

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