Swat hardened

Mullah Fazlullah, the recently appointed chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), is not new to the scene. But his background differs from that of his predecessors, who were Mehsuds from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). Fazlullah comes from the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM — Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law), which has its roots in the Malakand Agency. The movement's initial programme is evident from its name, but its methods have changed over time.

The TNSM was founded in 1989 by Maulana Sufi Muhammad, a native of Dir, a former princely state of the Malakand Agency. Once a member of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Sufi Muhammad soon eschewed electoral politics (though he had participated in it to become a local elected official). He grew in influence after the Supreme Court decision of 1994, which deprived the local executive authorities of their judicial powers and merged the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (Pata) into the legal mainstream. The discontented Khans and Maliks of the Pata then rallied around him. In November 1994, the TNSM staged an armed operation and forced the government to promulgate the Shariah Regulation, making the Shariah the primary source of law. Aftab Sherpao, then chief minister of the North West Frontier Province, was compelled to make substantial concessions.

In September-October 2001, the TNSM marshalled about 10,000 militants to aid the Taliban in fighting the post-9/11 Western (and Northern Alliance) military attacks. Its poorly armed foot soldiers crossed the Durand Line and came under a hail of bombs. When Sufi Mohammad returned to Pakistan, he was arrested and imprisoned. The TNSM was banned.

The movement continued to function under the leadership of his son-in-law, Mullah Fazlullah, who began to broadcast his sermons on the radio from Swat, his stronghold. These sermons, pronounced in a quietistic tone, gained an enormous following and Fazlullah soon became known as "Mullah Radio". The TNSM then pursued its career with the blessings of all political parties. As the 2002 elections approached, they attempted to share the TNSM's popularity, particularly in the Swat Valley. But the TNSM only backed Islamic parties affiliated with the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal — which returned the favour. The rescue operations undertaken by the movement in the wake of the 2005 earthquake further polished its image.

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