Islamabad: Buoyed by the success against the Taliban in the military operations, including the capture of their spokesman Muslim Khan, Pakistani security forces on Saturday launched a fresh manhunt for top Swat militant commander Maulana Fazlullah, believed to be "badly injured" recently.
Troops surrounded Manglor and Malam Jabba areas in Swat in their search for Fazlullah, who has been on the run since the Army launched operations against the Taliban in May, even as militants acknowledged that their outfit had been weakened.
The push against Fazlullah was launched a day after troops nabbed Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan and key commander Mehmood Khan, for whom authorities had offered bounties of Rs 10 million each. The security forces are also looking for 18 more of Fazlullah`s aides.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik recently claimed that Fazlullah had been "badly injured" and one of his legs was severed during bombardment by the security forces.
In a recorded message delivered to journalists in Peshawar yesterday, Fazlullah conceded that his organisation had been weakened due to recent military operations.
"The Taliban movement is presently in a state of illness. When you are ill, your activities are curtailed. That is what has happened to the Taliban organisation, but it would bounce back," the militant commander said.
Fazlullah spoke hurriedly in Pashto in the message and, at times, it was difficult to understand his words, said media reports. The voice in the message sounded like Fazlullah, though this could not be positively confirmed, the reports said.
The message was delivered through a militant named Salman, who has taken over as the Taliban spokesman in Swat after the arrest of Muslim Khan. Salman said the brief recording was delivered to him yesterday.
Fazlullah mentioned slain Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsud in his message and said all Pakistani Taliban wished to die like him.
"Like Baitullah Mehsud, all Taliban fighters want to embrace martyrdom. Getting arrested while fighting for a cause is no big deal for the Taliban," he said.
The Taliban in Swat and Malakand will continue their struggle for implementing Shariah or Islamic law and offer "every sacrifice to achieve this goal," he said. The Taliban possessed the power to carry out `fidayeen` attacks and those who doubted this should ask Russia, the US and NATO about the prowess of the militants, he said.
The whereabouts of Fazlullah, who is the son-in-law of the detained Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah Muhammadi leader Sufi Mohammad, are unknown.
There have been reports that he had been surrounded by troops in a mountainous area in Swat and could no longer move about freely.
In his message, Fazlullah said he had lost trust in the Pakistan Army after it allegedly invited his group for peace talks and arrested five negotiators.
He said the government and military may feel the need to talk to the Taliban again in future but the militants in Swat had decided not to hold any negotiations with the authorities.
The Pakistan Army yesterday dismissed reports that militant spokesman Muslim Khan, commander Mahmood Khan and three members of the Taliban `Shura` or council had been captured when they engaged authorities for peace talks. The Army said it would not hold any talks with the militants and called on them to surrender.
The Taliban have alleged the five `Shura` members were invited for peace talks over a week ago by military officials in Mingora, the main city in Swat, and then taken into custody.
Taliban spokesman Salman told `The News` daily that the talks went well for three days but the two sides "reached a stalemate when Army officers demanded that the Taliban must surrender their commanders who sabotaged previous peace agreements by refusing to dismantle roadside checkpoints and by sending fighters to Buner district."
The Taliban leaders also pointed out violations of an earlier peace accord by security forces and the government, Salman said.