.
.
.
.

‘Mullah Radio’ chosen as Pakistani Taliban’s new leader

Published: Updated:

Powerful militant commander Mullah Fazlullah, whose men shot school girl Malala Yousafzai, was chosen on Wednesday as Pakistani Taliban’s new leader after former leader Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan.

Earlier this month militant sources had said that the consultative Shura council of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chose Khan Said Mehsud known as Sajna as the new leader.

But the election of Sajna, who leads Taliban in South Waziristan, was reportedly opposed by Taliban’s other splinter groups. Fazlullah was reported to have strongly object to the choice of Sajna.

Sajna reportedly lacks substantial educational and religious credentials, but is he is known to be a hardened warrior among the Taliban with significant experience in fighting in the neighboring Afghanistan.

The election of Fazlullah, known for his hardline Islamist views and rejection of peace talks, is likely to dampen negotiations with the Pakistani government

“Following proper consultations ... we chose our senior commander Mullah Fazlullah as our new ameer,” said Pakistani Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid.

He told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location in neighboring Afghanistan that the decision was taken after a shura council meeting by senior Taliban figures.

There was heavy gunfire in celebration in Miranshah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal area, AFP reported.

Nicknamed Mullah Radio for his fiery Islamist radio broadcasts in Swat valley, Fazlullah is considered hardline even within the Pakistani Taliban movement itself.

The Pakistan government in 2009 launched a military operation and expelled his fighters from the Swat valley, where he had been chief Taliban commander. He fled across the border to Afghanistan and is now believed to be in Nuristan province.

His men shot and wounded Yousafzai last year because of her campaign to promote education among women in Swat, one of Pakistan's most conservative areas.

The killing of Mehsud last week came as government representatives prepared to meet the TTP with a view to opening peace talks.

It triggered an angry response from Islamabad, with Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar accusing Washington of sabotaging peace efforts.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was more measured, but said his government was committed to seeking peace through dialogue and stressing that an end to bloodshed could not be achieved “by unleashing senseless force.”

Imtiaz Gul, an author and expert on militancy in Pakistan, warned the choice of such an uncompromising candidate would spell problems for the embryonic peace process -- and a bloodier campaign from the TTP.

“It means they are not serious about any talks with the government,” Gul told AFP.

“TTP will be more brutal now.”