PESHAWAR -- Long-time militant leader Maulana Sufi Muhammad, chief of Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), appears to have changed his old ways.
Muhammad founded TNSM in 1992 to fight for Sharia law in Pakistan. TNSM was active against the government in the Dir, Swat and Malakand districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The government declared it a terrorist outfit and banned in 2002.
Authorities filed two cases against Muhammad in 2009 and arrested him. He was accused of sedition, aiding terrorism and conspiracy against Pakistan, among other offences.
Muhammad was locked up in Peshawar Central Jail until January 8 when the Peshawar High Court granted him bail.
Now, Muhammad, 93, says that killings or combat against the Pakistani army is un-Islamic.
"Killing a Muslim is strictly prohibited in Islam," he said in an interview broadcast on Express TV January 19.
He repudiated Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan's (TTP) violent campaign against Pakistani civilians and security forces.
"One may not raise arms against the state or kill women and children," he said. "Those who killed children at the Army Public School [in Peshawar in December 2014] are worse than infidels."
Turning against Mullah Fazlullah
Muhammad also had harsh words about his son-in-law, fugitive TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah.
"Fazlullah is worse than Khawarij," he said, referring to a group during the first century of Islam that was expelled from the faith because of its subversive activities against Muslims.
"The Taliban have all the signs of the Khawarij. Fazlullah has damaged Islam more than the non-Muslims did," said Muhammad.
Fazlullah should either surrender or be killed, he said, adding that he is an infidel and not a Muslim.
"He has caused huge monetary and human losses for which he should be held accountable," Muhammad said. "He was taking money from the public and businesses, which isn't allowed in Islam."
"Fazlullah will have to compensate the public for its losses," he said.
"I am ready to fight against militants alongside the Pakistani army," Muhammad said, although his age and ill health will keep him from the front lines.
Pakistan Forward reached out to Muhammad for an interview but was unable to speak with him over the phone because of his deteriorating health.
TTP losing support
Muhammad's remarks are a sign that the TTP is losing the popular support that it once possessed, said Peshawar-based security analyst Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah, former security secretary for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
"It is a big blow to militants that a person like Sufi Muhammad is cursing them," he told Pakistan Forward. "It is a welcome development and will strengthen the government's campaign against insurgents."
Muhammad's assessment that the Taliban has tarnished the image of Islam more than non-Muslims is quite true, Shah said.
Khadim Hussain, a Peshawar-based political analyst, said Muhammad's change of conscience is highly encouraging for the war against terrorism.
"He has a large following and they will automatically change their pro-Taliban loyalties," he told Pakistan Forward.
Calling Fazlullah his biggest enemy and that he deserves death is "a slap in the face of Taliban militants", Hussain said. "We appreciate Sufi [Muhammad] because he had realised the truth and terrorism is against Islam."
"[Muhammad] is also right in saying that the Pakistan army had saved the country from imminent collapse at the hands of terrorists," Hussain said, praising Muhammad for condemning the Taliban's attack on rights activist Malala Yousafzai.
A boost for peace efforts, education
Muhammad's latest interview is a great boost for the government's peace efforts, said Muhammad Shafiq, a Pakistan studies lecturer at the University of Malakand.
Malakand suffered badly at the hands of the TTP, Shafiq said. "The militancy destroyed educational institutions and health facilities and kept women from venturing out in public, which paralysed life."
"Sufi Muhammad's former followers are no longer pro-militancy as they consider security forces' war against terrorism a lawful exercise," he told Pakistan Forward.
Shafiq also praised Muhammad's comments on education, who said that educational institutions should not be targeted under any circumstance.
"We support education, and it is against Islamic injunctions to attack schools as men and women should gain knowledge," Muhammad said.
Muhammad's comments "will also help women get an education as the poor want to send their sisters and daughters to school", said Shafiq.