ISLAMABAD: As the American drones have stepped up attacks against the Pakistani militants operating from Afghanistan, Commander Mangal Bagh Afridi, the fugitive ameer of a Taliban-linked Islamic militia – Lashkar-e-Islam – has reportedly been killed in Nangarhar.
Mangal’s reported killing in a drone attack comes just a few days after a key TTP commander, Khalifa Omar Mansoor, who had masterminded the 2014 Army Public School attack in Peshawar, was killed in a similar attack by a drone in Nangarhar. The Pakistani authorities have long wondered why the CIA-run drones do not target those Pakistani Taliban leaders who are using the Afghan soil to stage terrorist attacks even while they keep targeting al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban leaders inside the Pakistani territory. Pakistan had reacted strongly to the droning of the ameer of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, in May 2016 in Quetta. Pakistan had even raised the issue at the United Nations Security Council, describing it as an unacceptable and blatant violation of the country’s sovereignty and of the United Nation’s charter and international law. On May 25, Army Chief General Sharif had told US Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale that the US should desist from taking unilateral actions that undermine mutual trust.
Fazlullah is based in the Kunar province of Afghanistan, and the Afghan government is allegedly turning a blind eye to his anti-Pakistan activities. Mangal Bagh, like Mullah Fazlullah, made his name by running a popular illegal FM Radio channel – ‘Da Haq Awaz’ or the ‘Voice of the Right’. He used his radio channel to propagate his venomous ideology against the Pakistani security forces and hurl threats at tribal elders who were siding with the security forces. He had declared war on Pakistani state and still commanded a large following that he could have activated any time. As such, his death will be marked as another blow in the fight against Islamic militancy. But security analysts believe that his killing will in itself not do much to reduce terrorism in the region. In fact, Mangal’s Lashkar-e-Islam had ceased operations in the Khyber Agency when most of its fighters fled to Afghanistan after the launch of Army’s Operation Zarb-e-Azab in North Waziristan.
The Pakistani authorities feared if they would finish Mangal, the Taliban would come in. Hence, the Pakistani state had literally withdrawn from the Bara area and much of the Khyber Agency and given a free hand to Mangal Bagh. As a result, the Lashkar-e-Islam militants used to act as the de facto police, driving around in four-wheel-drive vehicles that even had a blue flashing light. However, all this changed a couple of years ago when the military launched a massive operation clean-up [in June 2014] in North Waziristan and Mangal decided to provide shelter to the fleeing TTP leaders and militants in Khyber Agency. This prompted the Pakistan Army to first launch Operation Khyber I in the Bara area and then Operation Khyber II in the Tirah Valley of the Khyber Agency. In March 2015, Mangal formally merged his Lashkar-e-Islam into Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, after the killing of his younger son, Israfeel, at the hands of the security forces. He was subsequently appointed the supreme commander of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan for the Khyber Agency by the then TTP ameer Commander Hakeemullah Mehsud.
In fact, 95 per cent of Khyber agency is under firm government control and the militants hiding in the remaining pockets of Kachkol and Rajgal are being targeted through precision aerial strikes. But it is still unclear whether the military will launch the third and final phase of Operation Khyber to seize control of Rajgal and Kachkol valleys or continue to target militants and their hideouts through aerial strikes till winters in the snow-bound area to make it inhabitable for them. However, Mangal’s killing is a good news for the Pakistani security forces which believe his eradication would encourage more and more Lashkar-e-Islam fighters to surrender and lay down arms. Hundreds of his fighters had surrendered and laid down arms when the Army launched operations in the Khyber Agency.