LAHORE: Afghan Defence Ministry Spokesperson Mohammad Radmanish confirmed on Friday that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Mullah Fazlullah was killed in a US drone strike in the country’s Kunar province on June 13.
Born as Fazle Hayat in Swat district, he was a student at a seminary established by Maulana Sufi Muhammad, the founder of Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM). Fazlullah eventually married Sufi Muhammad’s daughter and emerged as the central figure in TNSM after its former leader was arrested by Pakistani forces when he tried to re-enter Pakistan following a brief clash with NATO forces in Afghanistan.
In 2004, he launched his own radio channel from which he delivered fiery rhetoric against the Pakistani state and its institutions, arguing in favour of imposing Sharia law, earning him the nickname “Mullah Radio”.
By 2007, armed men under Fazlullah’s command began to display excessive use of power and local support faded rapidly.
His rhetoric grew ever more harsh with time and he soon began to advocate for enforcement of a complete ban on music, television, computers and digital cameras. Barber shops were forced to close down and men were barred from shaving their beards, while women were virtually fenced inside homes. Girls were banned from attending schools and all opponents were ruthlessly eliminated or beheaded. In the same year, in the aftermath of the siege of Lal Masjid, Fazlullah formed an alliance with Baitullah Mehsud’s TTP, targeting the Pakistan army and police in Swat.
Two rounds of ceasefire were arranged with the Pakistani government but none of them proved to be successful. Eventually in May 2009, the Pakistani Army launched Operation Rah-e-Raast (Right Path), successfully evicting the Taliban militants from Swat and forcing Fazlullah to flee across the border into Afghanistan. Many of his close companions and senior members of the TNSM and TTP were killed or arrested.
Fazlullah continued his reign of terror against Pakistani citizens from across the border, directing militants to conduct attacks against military and civilian targets across the country. He is known to have personally approved the assassination attempt against Malala Yousafzai in 2012.
In 2013, after TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone strike, Fazlullah became the new emir of the terrorist group, orchestrating the bloody terrorist attack against the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar in December, 2014 that killed more than 140 people, most of whom were schoolchildren. Pakistani forces responded by intensifying Operation Zarb-e-Azb to target TTP cadres in North Waziristan. As a result of the operation, TTP lost all territorial control in Pakistan for the first time since 2007.
Pakistan had consistently complained that Fazlullah was organising attacks from his base of operations in Afghanistan, urging NATO and the Afghan government to take action.
Earlier in 2018, the US State Department issued a $5 million reward for information leading to arrest of the TTP leader.
On June 13, a US drone strike conducted in Afghanistan’s Kunar province reportedly targeted Fazlullah.
“US forces conducted a counter terrorism strike, June 13, in Kunar province, close to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which targeted a senior leader of a designated terrorist organisation,” US forces in Afghanistan spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Martin Donnell announced on June 14.
Fazlullah’s death was confirmed by Afghan authorities on June 15.