Pakistan releases pro-Taliban leader Sufi Muhammad
1st January 2019

Facing sedition charge, the 93-year-old, known as father of Taliban in Swat, released on bail as trial continues.

    Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistani authorities have released on bail prominent militia commander and scholar, Sufi Muhammad, known as the father of the Taliban in the Swat Valley, on health grounds, his lawyer says.

    Muhammad, 93, was imprisoned in the northwestern city of Peshawar in 2009 and charged with sedition and waging war against Pakistan, after he led demands for the imposition of a strict, conservative interpretation of Islamic law in the country’s northern Swat Valley.

    He is the father-in-law of current Pakistan Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah.

    On January 8, a Pakistani court ordered that he be released on bail from the Peshawar central jail on humanitarian grounds, while the cases against him would continue to be heard.

    Muhammad was released on Monday after bail bonds worth 700,000 Pakistani rupees (about $6,300) were submitted by his son to authorities in Mingora, the capital of Swat district, said Fida Gul, the cleric’s lawyer.

    “The court has also ordered that once in the month he will report to his local police station, as well as whenever he is planning on leaving his town,” Gul told Al Jazeera.

    The former militia commander, who suffers from diabetes and kidney ailments, has also promised authorities that he will not take part in any political activities, he said.

    “He has given this undertaking to the court [that he] will not involve himself in any type of activities that are against the writ of the government [or] that promote the [Taliban] movement.”

    Muhammad is expected to travel to his native town of Timergara, about 170km northwest of the capital Islamabad, in the coming days.

    ‘Father of Swat Taliban’

    Pakistan has long faced international criticism for not doing enough against armed groups fighting in neighbouring Afghanistan and against Indian security forces in the disputed region of Kashmir.

    In November, a Pakistani court ordered the release of Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, who carries a $10 million US bounty on his head, saying the government had not presented sufficient evidence to maintain his detention under anti-terrorism laws.

    Earlier this month, the United States suspended about $1.1bn in security assistance to Pakistan, saying the country needed to take action against Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network commanders it believes enjoy safe haven in the country.

    Sufi Muhammad’s fight, however, has been focused on the Pakistani state and security forces for the past 16 years.

    The head of the Tehreek-e-Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), Muhammad had long fought for the imposition of his strict interpretation of Islamic law in his native Swat and Dir districts.

    He rose to prominence in 1994, when he led a mass public sit-in in the valley, opposing government plans to impose Pakistan’s judicial structures on the district.

    A veteran of the US-backed Afghan war against Soviet forces, Muhammad led a brigade of thousands to fight US-led coalition forces in neighbouring Afghanistan in 2001. He was arrested on his return to Pakistan in 2002.

    In 2008, he was released as part of a deal between the government and militias in the Swat Valley which saw Islamic law imposed by a faction of the Taliban, led by commander Mullah Fazlullah, in the valley.

    A year later, as the peace agreement fell apart, Muhammad once again found himself in the government’s crosshairs, with a full-scale military operation launched to retake Swat from the Taliban.

    He was re-arrested from the northwestern city of Peshawar in July that year, and charged with waging war against Pakistan.

    The cases, his lawyer says, will continue to be heard in court.

    “He was released only on the basis of his sickness and his old age, but the trials are ongoing,” said Gul. “He has not been acquitted.”

    Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s Web Correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.

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