Sufi Muhammad rose to prominence in the mid 90s during Benazir Bhutto's regime, Asia Times Online writes. His group agitated for a strict interpretation of Islamic law and eventually forced Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to declare Islamic laws for the picturesque Swat Valley in northern Pakistan.
After September 11, 2001, Sufi gathered approximately 10,000 untrained armed men to fight against the US invasion of Afghanistan, despite Taliban leader Mullah Omar's opposition. Most of them were either killed or arrested by the Americans or kidnapped by local warlords for ransom. Sufi managed to escape unhurt from Afghanistan, only to be arrested at the border and jailed in Pakistan.
In his absence, the TNSM regrouped under Maulana Muhammad Alam and was allowed to operate with the tacit consent of the ISI [the Pakistani Intelligence Agency]. But Sufi's son-in-law Mullah Fazlullah, who had become radicalized after meeting al-Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, wanted to take the group in a different direction.
Fazlullah remains at large, running his own renegade version of TNSM that is aligned to Al Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. He has established his own popular radio station, dubbed "Mullah radio," which delivers fiery antigovernment speeches, and he has ignored pleas from the ISI and Sufi Muhammad to moderate his tone. While he insists that Sufi Muhammad's release will not affect the Swat Valley insurgency, it is unclear what relationship his section of TNSM will have to Sufi Muhammad's.