Pakistani Taliban Pick New Hardline Commander

The Taliban commander who ordered the shooting of Malala gets a promotion

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A. Majeed / AFP / Getty Images

A video released in 2010 reportedly showed radical Pakistani cleric Mullah Fazlullah.

Less than a week after the head of the Pakistani Taliban was killed in a U.S. drone strike, the militant group has elected Mullah Fazlullah, a commander whose men tried to assassinate education activist Malala Yousafzai last year, as its new chief.

“We chose our senior commander Mullah Fazlullah as our new ameer,” a spokesman for the group told Reuters by phone from an undisclosed location on Thursday.

Fazlullah, nicknamed “Mullah Radio” for his guerrilla Islamist radio broadcasts, is a hardline commander who has clashed with the Pakistani government. In 2009, Pakistani forces drove his fighters from the Swat Valley into Afghanistan, but Fazlullah still managed to reach back across the border. Last year, his men shot Malala Yousafzai in the head while she was on her way to school because she had advocated for girls’ education in Pakistan. Malala has spent the past year recovering in the U.K., becoming an international icon as she has spoken out for universal education for girls.

The Pakistani Taliban, also known as the  Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), operates in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Afghan border. The movement is not directly affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, but the groups share a similar ideology. The Pakistani army has fought against the TTP for years, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recently began talks to try and stop the violence that has plagued the FATA.

Hakimullah Mehsud, the previous leader of the TTP, was killed on Nov. 1 in a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan. The election of Fazlullah as Mehsud’s successor is a blow to any expectations that a peace deal between the Pakistani government and the TTP might be possible.