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

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.

Pakistan says Afghan president’s comments on Pashteen’s arrest 'unwarranted'

Updated 19 min 46 sec ago

Pakistan says Afghan president’s comments on Pashteen’s arrest 'unwarranted'

  • Ghani said he was ‘troubled’ by the arrest
  • Ghani’s tweets ‘are a clear interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs’ – FO

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has condemned Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s statement on the arrest of Manzoor Pashteen, the leader of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM).
“We have noted with serious concern the recent tweets by President Ashraf Ghani, which are a clear interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs and hence, unwarranted,” the Foreign Office said in a statement, adding that Pakistan wishes to maintain close relations with Afghanistan “based on the principles of non-intervention and non-interference.”
The words came after Ghani’s Twitter post on Monday, in which he expressed his worry over the PTM leader’s detention.
“I am troubled by the arrest of Manzoor Pashteen and his colleagues. I fully echo the concerns raised by Amnesty International in this regard and hope for their immediate release,” Ghani said, adding that while the region is suffering due to violent extremism, “must support and encourage peaceful civilian movements for justice and must avoid any means of force and violence against these movements.”

PTM is a movement that says it advocates Pashtun rights in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces, which have significant Pashtun populations. The Pashtuns are also the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan.
Following Pashteen’s arrest by police in Peshawar on Monday, the PTM called for a countrywide protest, while lawmakers from tribal areas requested his release.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Mohsin Dawar, a National Assembly (MNA) member from North Waziristan tribal district, said that Pashteen had been “abducted by police.”

In this undated file photo, Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) central leader Manzoor Pashteen addresses a crowd in Peshawar. (Photo courtesy: PTM)

Another lawmaker, Ali Wazir from South Waziristan tribal district, said that police did not provide information why Pashteen was detained.
“A day earlier, Defense Minister Pervez Khattak has approached us for negotiations to resolve our problems, but the arrest of our central leader soon after Khattak’s talks offer is a big question mark. We will offer stout resistance if Pashteen is not released soon,” Wazir said.