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Pakistani Taliban elect hardliner as new leader

Fearsome reputation alarms minority religious leaders reporter, Peshawar

November 8, 2013

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Pakistani Taliban elected hard line militant commander Mullah Fazlullah as their new leader, a move human rights leaders said could jeopardize the safety of minority religious communities.

Fazlullah replaces Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a November 1 US drone strike in the North Waziristan tribal region. The announcement was made by the Taliban's interim chief Asmatullah Shaheen at a news conference in North Waziristan on Thursday.

“The situation is becoming worse for religious minorities and they are feeling more vulnerable because Mulla Fazlulla is a more rigid person,” said Cecil S Chaudry, executive director of the Pakistani bishops’ National Commission of Justice and Peace.

Fazlullah, head of the Taliban’s Swat chapter in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, seized control of the Swat valley in 2007 after a bloody campaign that terrorized residents. Schools were burned down, police officials were beheaded and women were flogged. His group was responsible for the shooting of student activist Malala Yousafza and he also headed the militant Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (Movement to Impose the Sharia of Mohammed).

Chaudry called on the government to increase security for members of minority religions, especially at places of worship and schools. He said the government should train a “specialized force” equipped to deal with the needs of the religious minority communities.

In 2009, Fazlullah escaped to Afghanistan after Pakistan launched a military offensive to regain control of the region and captured several other Taliban commanders.

The radical cleric, who has a US$46,000 bounty on his head, is believed to be orchestrating attacks from Afghanistan’s Kunar province.

More recently, he claimed responsibility for the killing of Pakistani General Sanaullah Niazi in a September roadside bomb in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Khan Zamir, a local journalist, told that there was celebratory fire in the area as soon as Fazlullah’s election was announced.

“With the election of hard line Fazlullah, the prospects for peace talks with the government are dim at the moment,” Zamir said.

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