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Page last updated at 14:54 GMT, Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Taliban leader 'flees Pakistan'

By Hai Kakar
BBC Urdu, Peshawar

Taliban supporters in Mingora Feb 2009
Maulana Fazlullah commands the loyalty of many militants in Swat

One of the most wanted Taliban leaders in Pakistan has escaped to Afghanistan and is planning new attacks on Pakistani forces, he has told the BBC.

Maulana Fazlullah founded the Swat Taliban to enforce a hardline version of Islamic law.

The government at first accepted his demands, but later accused the militants of reneging on a peace deal and sent troops into the valley.

Maulana Fazlullah was said by officials to have been wounded or killed in July.

Threats

"I have reached Afghanistan safely," Maulana Fazlullah told BBC Urdu.

"We are soon going to launch full-fledged punitive raids against the army in Swat."

The voice was recognisably Maulana Fazlullah's - he has a very distinct way of pronouncing words.

I have spoken to him on several occasions and met him twice.

Maulana Fazlullah was calling from an Afghan number and sounded in good spirits when he called on Monday.

He said that those claiming success for the Swat operation should try to prevent drone attacks and the US security firm Blackwater from operating in Pakistan.

He issued a warning to the North West Frontier Province's information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain.

"The authorities should beware, especially Mian Iftikhar Hussain, whose fate will be like that of Najibullah," he warned, referring to Dr Najibullah who was Afghan president before the Taliban hanged him in 1996 when they took Kabul.

Talking about US President Barack Obama's Afghan policy, Maulana Fazlullah said there was no need for the US to send in more troops.

"Hundreds of thousands of Pakistani soldiers are already involved in furthering the US agenda in the region," he said.

'Boost for militants'

Maulana Fazlullah has been incommunicado for several months.

During this time a number of reports had circulated about his death or capture by the military.

These had gained credence after Pakistani authorities said he was fatally wounded in the army operation.

The Taliban denied reports that he had been injured or was close to death.

His return is likely to be a morale booster for the increasingly beleaguered Taliban in Pakistan.

But it appears unlikely that his militants will be able to take the fight to the army, so soon after being soundly defeated in Swat.

The Taliban are also on the run in their main stronghold in South Waziristan, where the Pakistani military recently launched a major offensive.



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