The death of Hakimullah Mehsud, the former leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) last week has led to Maulana Fazlullah being anointed its new chief. This is the man whose group orchestrated the attack on Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old who was on her way to school. Fazlullah is married to the daughter of Sufi Muhammed, who had started another militant outfit in Swat. After Muhammed was arrested, Fazlullah took over and built the outfit into a potent force. It is believed that soon after the siege of Lal Masjid when Pakistani security forces stormed the mosque, Fazlullah decided to merge his outfit with the TTP, then led by Baitullah Mehsud.
The fact that the TTP has chosen such a man as the successor to Hakimullah indicates the violent turn the TTP wants to take in the coming days. The US strategy in the Af-Pak region to use drones for neutralising militant leaders throws up a mixed bag of results familiar in the history of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency. For the Pakistani security forces this will offer a major challenge in the historical great game that is Afghanistan and by extension, Pakistan. The Nawaz Sharif-government claimed that the peace talks it had started with the TTP have now been buried in the debris of the drone attack that killed Hakimullah. In his place Fazlullah is a known enemy who is credited with killing a Pakistani major general whose army division had launched an attack on the TTP a few years ago. Fazlullah is clearly a hardliner and all set to renew the fight against Pakistan and the American forces operating across the border in Afghanistan.
This is also a tense time with an impending US withdrawal in 2014 and a proposed Bilateral Security Agreement between the US and Afghanistan stuck in negotiations. Without this deal, it will be impossible for American forces to maintain a presence and operate in the region. Clearly, Fazlullah is a combustible presence that will stir things up in the days to come.