Sufi Muhammad, ‘father of Swat Taliban,’ passes away at 92

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Radical Pakistani cleric Sufi Mohammad arrives to address his supporters in Mingora, the capital of Pakistan's Swat valley, in this 2009 file photo. (AP)
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Family members of Maulana Sufi Mohammad, center, say he died Thursday in Peshawar and was to be buried later in the day. (AFP/File)
Updated 11 July 2019
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Sufi Muhammad, ‘father of Swat Taliban,’ passes away at 92

  • Led over 3,000 militants against Pakistani troops in Swat valley, 1,200 people killed in the violence
  • Released on bail last year on health grounds after spending almost nine years in prison for sedition

KARACHI: Sufi Mohammad, a radical cleric at the vanguard of a struggle a decade ago to impose Islamic law in Pakistan’s picturesque Swat valley, passed away after a long illness on Thursday, his son said. He was 92 years old.
Mohammad, who founded the Tehrik-e-Nifaz Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM), or movement for the introduction of Shariah law, famously led about 3,000 Taliban militants in Swat, a one time tourist haven in the mountains just 130 km northwest of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. At the height of his movement between 2007-2009, Mohammad was able to keep 12,000 troops at bay and terrorized the local population with floggings and the burning of schools. According to government figures, more than 1,200 people were killed during the violence.
“My father, who had multiple health issues, died during Fajar (early morning) prayers at our home in Peshawar,” Mohammad’s son Fazlullah told Arab News via phone from Peshawar, adding that he would be buried in Maidan in Pakistan’s Lower Dir district.
Mohammad, the father-in-law of the now slain chief of the Pakistani Taliban, Maulana Fazlullah, took over Swat and negotiated a truce with the government in February 2009 that imposed Shariah in the valley in exchange for an end to two years of fighting.
The deal collapsed in April when the Taliban advanced into neighboring districts, setting off a military offensive that prompted a spree of retaliatory attacks by militants and led to thousands of people being displaced.
In July 2009, Mohammad was arrested and spent almost nine years in jail on charges of sedition and waging war against Pakistan. He was released on bail last year for health reasons. He had also previously served six years in prison between 2002-2008 for leading fighters to Afghanistan in a vain bid to help the Taliban repel US-backed forces.
Mohammad was born in Maidan, Lower Dir, and received his religious education from a hard-liner seminary in the Swabi region. He initially joined the religious political party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, but parted ways with the outfit and established his own TNSM in 1992.

“He was sincere but very emotional,” said Maulana Asadullah, a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami from Mohammad’s hometown, adding that the cleric’s emotional nature prompted him to adopt a way to bring about change, “which was violent and wrong … He wasn’t willing to wait for too long, so he picked up the gun and resorted to violence.”
In his last years spent in jail, Mohammad is known to have softened his stance, even describing his son-in-law Fazlullah as an ‘infidel’ in TV interviews and calling for him to surrender before authorities.
Fazlullah was killed in a US-Afghan airstrike in Afghanistan in June last year.


’I keep looking at the door’: 11-year-old Afreen awaits her father after Saudi authorities paid blood money for him

Updated 2 min 38 sec ago
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’I keep looking at the door’: 11-year-old Afreen awaits her father after Saudi authorities paid blood money for him

  • Zahir Hussain Khan was asked to pay 1.3 million SAR after a road accident in 2012 that killed four people
  • The Pakistani truck driver has spent seven years in a Makkah prison until now

KARACHI/JEDDAH: Hafizullah, the youngest of Zahir Hussain Khan’s four children, was born after his father had already left for Saudi Arabia, and was an infant in the winter of 2012 when the truck that his father was driving collided with a car on the Makkah highway and killed four people.
The judge who heard the case ordered Khan to pay 1.3 million SAR, the equivalent of almost $350,000, as blood money to the families of the deceased. It was an unaffordable sum for the truck driver, who had left his pregnant wife and family behind in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar, and traveled to Saudi Arabia in search of a better paying job.
Khan was imprisoned in a Makkah prison where he languished for almost seven years until now, when the Saudi bait ul-maal paid off the bloody money he owed to the accident victims.
Hizbullah Khan, a friend of Khan’s told Arab News, “We approached the royal court for paying the blood money of Zahir Khan and got a very positive response from them.”
But the journey that led the family to the royal court, was not an easy one.
When news of Khan’s imprisonment first reached his family in Peshawar, his father died of a broken heart, Khan’s brother Hidayatullah told Arab News by telephone from Peshawar.
“We appealed to the government of Pakistan and local news channels ran the news with a call for funds... but nothing happened,” he said.
The family had lost all hope but six months ago, Hidayatullah said he heard they could get help from the Saudi bait-ul-maal.
“They don’t see the face or the nationality, they just entertain every deserving person,” he said.
“I cannot express my feelings in words,” he continued, his voice breaking with emotion. “I don’t know how to say thank you to King Salman for this generosity.”
Behind him, Khan’s mother’s voice spoke up: “We will always pray for King Salman and his long and healthy life. He made my dream come true, now I will see my son again.”
Khan’s eldest daughter, Afreen, now 11 years old, says she has been told her father has been set free. She has no memories of him from before he left, but her uncle says she and the other children get up every morning and rush outside to check if their father has arrived.
“I look at the door and wait for when my father will enter,” Afreen said.
Hidayatullah said Khan is as eager to come home and see his children again, especially his youngest son who he has never met.
“When my brother was in prison, he would stare at pictures of his children in a story published by Urdu News,” Hidayatullah said.
The order for Khan’s release came two weeks ago, and the family is now anxious for next steps.
Hidayatullah says he hopes his family will have to wait no more. “We are just a few days away from a great family reunion.”