The mysterious escape of Ehsanullah Ehsan
The mysterious escape of a former Pakistani Taliban spokesman under custody has raised serious questions about the ineptness of security agencies. One of the country's most notorious militants, Ehsanullah Ehsan, who had surrendered to Pakistani authorities in 2017 and was being held by military intelligence is now on the run.
In an audio message posted on social media last week Ehsanullah claimed he has fled the country and accused Pakistani security forces of reneging on the terms of his surrender. There is still no explanation from the government about how a most wanted militant escaped from high security detention.
The plot has thickened because of the administration’s silence over the grave security breach. Ehsanullah claimed to have fled to Turkey and has spoken to some journalists over the phone. His escape is as enigmatic as his surrender some three years ago. At the time, the military spokesman had described his surrender as a big achievement.
“Our biggest enemies are now realizing the error of their ways and are turning themselves in," Pakistan's then chief military spokesman had said.
Ehsanullah was not an ordinary militant or a misguided teenage foot soldier brainwashed into fighting for a holy cause. In fact, no-one fitted the definition of a 'jet-black terrorist' better than him-- as one of the founding members of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and subsequently a spokesman for the TTP splinter group, Jamaatul Ahrar. These organizations have been responsible for the killing of thousands of Pakistanis.
For almost a decade, he was the face of Pakistani militant groups, but the ambiguity surrounding the terms of his purported surrender raised suspicions of him being cleared-- or declared 'white.' What reinforced the apprehension was his calm demeanor during his video confessional statement released by military authorities.
It was disgusting to watch a cold-blooded terror mastermind informing television audiences that he had found the 'right path.' While he ripped apart his erstwhile comrades-in-arms for their ‘un-Islamic’ deeds and their connections with foreign agencies, there was not a tinge of remorse regarding his own role.
Ehsanullah was not an ordinary militant or a misguided teenage foot soldier brainwashed into fighting for a holy cause. In fact, no-one fitted the definition of a 'jet-black terrorist' better than him.
Just months before his 'surrender' he had proudly claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks that killed scores of people in various parts of Pakistan.
Who can forget the video in which, wearing his signature Chitrali cap with a submachine gun slung across his shoulders, Ehsan justified the killing of young children and teachers at Peshawar’s Army Public School in 2014? Or his arrogant voice claiming the attack on Malala Yousafzai in 2012?
Then suddenly, he was presented as a ‘reformed’ man. A private TV channel interview virtually portrayed him as a sensitive young poet who got involved with bad guys on the payroll of foreign intelligence agencies.
His video confessional statement and TV interview provoked intense criticism, especially from the parents of the victims of the Peshawar school massacre. Ehsanullah’s disclosure of Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies funding militant outfits responsible for the Peshawar carnage was of no solace to them. It could not absolve him of complicity in the crime against the people and the country.
The intriguing part was the way Ehsanullah turned himself in to the security agencies. The deal that probably lured him to surrender was never made public. Nothing was clear, with the intelligence agencies keeping it all under wraps. The smug look on his face in the video betrayed his confidence that he would never be sent to the gallows or even stand trial in a court of law. The entire episode was murky.
Whatever the truth may be, at least one thing is apparent — the disclosures he made were not voluntary-- nor did they reflect the sudden awakening of his conscience. He didn’t even accept responsibility for militant actions he so proudly claimed in the past. The glorification of such a man, who has the blood of thousands on his hands, has raised many questions.
The argument that the information extracted from Ehsanullah had helped eliminate several terrorist networks appears hollow after his escape from custody-- and his subsequent audio message belies the contention. Indeed, there are precedents where the state has given amnesty to insurgents giving up violence. But the same rule cannot be applied to ‘jet-black’ terrorists like Ehsanullah.
The Ehsanullah episode is a test case for the state and security agencies. It is imperative that the public not only know how he escaped, but also the deal made with him.
– Zahid Hussain is an award-winning journalist and author. He is a former scholar at Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholar, USA, and a visiting fellow at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, and at the Stimson Center in Washington DC. He is author of Frontline Pakistan: The struggle with militant Islam (Columbia university press) and The Scorpion’s tail: The relentless rise of Islamic militants in Pakistan (Simon and Schuster, NY). Frontline Pakistan was the book of the year (2007) by the WSJ.