October 21, 2011 / 4:27 AM / 6 years ago

Taliban leader Fazlullah vows new war in Pakistan

6 Min Read

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Afghanistan-based Pakistani Taliban leader Maulvi Fazlullah, a key figure in the insurgency, has vowed to return home to wage war as the country comes under renewed American pressure to tackle militancy.

"We sacrificed our lives, left our homes and villages for the sake of sharia (Islamic Law) and will do whatever we can to get sharia implemented in the Malakand region and rest of Pakistan," Sirajuddin Ahmad, a close adviser, told Reuters, describing Fazlullah's position.

He was answering written questions submitted by Reuters.

The Taliban threat was issued as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and top U.S. military and intelligence leaders delivered a tough warning to Pakistan to crack down on militants, an issue heavily straining ties.

Fazlullah was the Pakistani Taliban leader in Swat Valley, about 100 miles northwest of Islamabad, before a 2009 army offensive forced him to flee.

Also known as FM Mullah for his fiery radio broadcasts, he regrouped in Afghanistan and established strongholds, and poses a threat to Pakistan once again, said army spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas.

He is a prime example of the classic problem faced by Pakistan's military, one of the world's biggest.

Militant leaders can simply melt away in the rugged mountainous frontier area in the face of army offensives.

The Pakistani Taliban, which is separate from but aligned to the Afghan Taliban fighting foreign forces in Afghanistan, has declared war on the Pakistani state for providing support to the U.S.-led war on militants in the region.

Pakistan recently complained that Afghan and U.S.-led forces had failed to hunt down Fazlullah who was responsible for a spate of cross-border raids.

On the other hand, Afghanistan and the United States have accused elements in the Pakistan government of supporting members of the Afghan Taliban.

Complex Militant Alliances

Ahmed said all Afghans, especially the mujahideen, or militant groups, were supporting Fazlullah in Afghanistan. But he said the Afghan Taliban were not helping him stage cross-border raids in Pakistan.

"We are more secure and happy in Afghanistan than Pakistan, where the armed forces ruthlessly killed our people and subjected us to brutalities," Ahmad said.

He alleged that Pakistani security forces had "executed" fighters in Swat. Military officials were not immediately available for comment, but they have in the past denied accusations of abuses.

But one military official, who asked not to be named, said about 2,000 militants were killed by security forces in Swat during a 2009 offensive.

Fazlullah clearly re-emerged as a threat in recent months when his fighters took part in cross-border raids that killed around 100 Pakistani security forces, angering the army which faces threats from multiple militant groups.

Fazlullah, a leading figure in the Pakistani Taliban insurgency, is based in Kunar and Nuristan provinces in Afghanistan, said Abbas.

Other leaders of the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella of about 12 groups, and the government have suggested they are open to peace talks to end a conflict that has killed thousands of people.

But Fazlullah seemed skeptical about the government's intentions.

"Pakistani rulers always approach us through some people whenever their relations with the United States become unfriendly and make appeals to us to help them in restoration of peace in the country," said his adviser.

"But they forget their promises and become more harsh and cruel when their relations are restored with the United States. We know these tricks of the Pakistani rulers and do not trust in their promises."

After Pakistan cleared Swat of militants in 2009, it maintained thousands of troops to prevent the Taliban from coming back.

But analysts say the government needs to develop a more comprehensive strategy that tackles the underlying causes of militancy, such as unemployment and inadequate education.

Many poor people who can't afford normal schools send their children to hardline religious seminaries that cover the costs but also churn out young men eager for holy war who end up joining the Taliban.

Pakistan has a weak economy heavily dependent on foreign aid so it doesn't have the resources to tackle those problems.

Faced with a resilient enemy, the government has in the past tried to pacify militants through dialogue, which backfired.

The Taliban capitalized on a widely criticized government peace deal with the Taliban to take control of Swat, home to more than a million people. In April 2009, Secretary of State Clinton termed the agreement an abdication to the Taliban.

During her current visit, Clinton is likely to urge the Pakistani government to tackle the complex alliances between militant groups in the northwest tribal regions on the Afghan border.

The pressure is likely to focus on the Afghan Haqqani network, which Washington says is based in North Waziristan and -- the group says it no longer needs sanctuaries in Pakistan and feels secure in Afghanistan.

The Haqqanis are blamed for attacks on American targets in Afghanistan, including the September 13 attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul. Analysts say Pakistan sees the group as a lever in Afghanistan where rival India is vying for influence.

Pakistan leaders, for their part, are likely to repeat their argument that the army is too stretched fighting Taliban militants like Fazlullah who attack the Pakistani state.

Fazlullah's advisor said his men would "continue" their fight against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan once they succeed in imposing sharia law in Swat. Residents there complained of public hangings and beatings during Fazlullah's rule.

Writing by Michael Georgy, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher

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