New Taliban chief could push Pakistan to military action

New Taliban chief could push Pakistan to military action
A Pakistani journalist watches a newly released video of radical Pakistani cleric Maulana Fazlullah in Peshawar.

ISLAMABAD - The Pakistani Taleban's appointment of a new hardline leader opposed to peace talks and with a long history of attacks against the military could push the army into launching a fresh offensive, analysts said on Friday.

The election of Mullah Fazlullah, notorious for leading the militants' brutal two-year rule in Pakistan's northwestern Swat valley, is like a "red rag to a bull", one analyst said. It could also raise tensions with Kabul at a critical juncture as US-led forces withdraw from Afghanistan after 12 years of war.

While Kabul has long accused Islamabad of supporting the Afghan Taleban, Fazlullah has orchestrated cross-border attacks from his hideout in eastern Afghanistan, and Pakistan suspects its neighbour's intelligence services of supporting him.

Fazlullah, nicknamed Mullah Radio for his fiery sermons over the airwaves denouncing polio vaccination campaigns and female education, is renowned as an uncompromising commander.

Pakistani intelligence believes he is linked to the failed attempt to kill schoolgirl education activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in Swat in October 2012.

He was appointed chief of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Thursday, nearly a week after a US drone strike killed his predecessor Hakimullah Mehsud.

Islamabad reacted angrily to the killing of Mehsud, with the interior minister saying Washington had "sabotaged" peace talks.

It is not clear what progress, if any, had been made towards meaningful dialogue - but the process lies in tatters after Fazlullah's election.

On Thursday, the militants dismissed the idea of peace talks with the government as a "waste of time", and said they would never negotiate until sharia law was imposed across the country.

Defence analyst Talat Masood, a retired general, said the TTP's choice of Fazlullah, whose men have carried out bloody and humiliating attacks against the army, was like a "red rag to a bull".

"This leaves no margin for negotiation and they will have to resort to a military operation and will have to be fully prepared to prevent terrorist actions in the country," Masood said.

"He is enemy number one of the military."

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