THE reported death of TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah in a drone strike inside Afghanistan is an important development for the region and for ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

While previously, militant leaders have been pronounced dead only to emerge alive later, what lent credence to the report was that President Ashraf Ghani himself called Prime Minister Nasir-ul-Mulk and army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa to convey the news.

Perhaps if the banned TTP announces the death of its leader or footage appears of his funeral, there will be greater certainty that a reign of terror has come to an end. Fazlullah would not be the first anti-state or TTP supreme leader killed by a US drone.

After the death of Nek Mohammad in what is believed to have been the first drone strike in Pakistan in 2004, US drones eliminated TTP supremo Baitullah Mehsud and his successor Hakeemullah Mehsud.

But the elimination of Fazlullah at this juncture in a drone strike may be the most significant of the battlefield decapitations of militant leaders yet.

It has long been apparent that reciprocity is key to moving forward a peace and dialogue process in the Pak-Afghan region.

While Pakistan has for several years now offered to help nudge the Afghan Taliban towards dialogue, the state has also demanded that Kabul and the US do more to curb the existence of anti-Pakistan militant sanctuaries in Afghanistan.

Fazlullah’s presence inside Afghanistan had been widely presumed and neither the Afghan nor the US administration credibly denied the existence of TTP hideouts in the country.

While all militant sanctuaries are provocative, Fazlullah’s presence on Afghan soil was especially damaging to the possibility of peace in the region because of the violence the TTP has wreaked on Pakistan.

The ‘butcher of Swat’ turned a picturesque and mostly peaceful region into killing fields. Fazlullah’s ambitions were national and perhaps even regional.

Where fear once spread in 2009 that the Pakistani Taliban may overrun the federal capital, Fazlullah for a while appeared to be the militant leader who might deliver on that threat.

The attempted assassination of a young schoolgirl and education activist shocked much of the nation, but also sowed the seeds of division in parts of the country.

Malala Yousafzai is one of Pakistan’s greatest citizens today, but pockets of resistance in the country to her magnificent message of peace and education for all are a legacy of the evil of Fazlullah and his militants and supporters.

The Army Public School attack in Peshawar in 2014 finally and irreversibly turned national sentiment wholly against the TTP.

Today, it appears that a fresh outreach by Gen Bajwa and the Pakistani state to Afghanistan may be producing results. It is sincerely hoped that peace in the region will eventually prevail.

Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2018

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