In April 2017, Ehsanullah Ehsan, a senior spokesperson of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] who subsequently joined its breakaway faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar [JuA] supposedly, ‘surrendered’ to Pakistan army. It was a great moment for Rawalpindi and the then Director General [DG] of Pakistan army’s media wing Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR] Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor proudly announced how “The state is re-establishing its writ,” adding that “No element can challenge the state if the state has the will to weed out dangerous elements.” He also said that “There can be no bigger achievement for Pakistan than the fact that our biggest enemies are now realising the error of their ways and are turning themselves in,” a unquestionable assertion that even Rawalpindi’s staunchest detractors had to accept.
However, with JuA insisting that Ehsan had not surrendered but had been captured by Pakistan army’s spy agency Inter Services Intelligence [ISI] from Paktika province of Afghanistan, ISPR’s claim lost much of its sheen. But this didn’t bother Rawalpindi as the former TTP spokesperson’s ‘confession’ was music to its ears. Alleging that spy agencies of India [Research and Analysis Wing or RAW]and Afghanistan [National directorate of Security or NDS] were using TTP to orchestrate terrorist activities in Pakistan, he went to the extent of claiming that “They [RAW and NDS] supported [TTP], extending financial assistance and they also gave targets, and for each attack (TTP) charged a price.”
But more on this later.
While Islamabad made a massive hue and cry demanding action against New Delhi, accusing it of inciting terrorism, the international community’s response to Ehsan’s assertions was guarded- and there were good reasons for this.
Firstly, it’s common knowledge that once a person is in custody of security agencies, he can be compelled to say whatever his captors demand, and the extremely controversial ‘arrest’ of former Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav a year earlier was still fresh in peoples’ mind. Secondly, before commenting on espionage and terror related issues, every nation corroborates claims being made a ‘surrendered’ terrorist with inputs from other more credible sources, and needless to say, except for Pakistan, no other country has accused New Delhi of patronising terrorist groups. Au contraire, the whole world is well aware of how Pakistan army believes in ‘good’ Taliban and uses it to wage proxy wars against its neighbours.
If Ehsan’s ‘surrender’ was enigmatic, then equally mysterious was his subsequent ‘escape’ alongwith his entire family three years later, despite being under Pakistan army’s watch. It’s here that Rawalpindi’s link with terrorist groups became all the more apparent. Jadhav, who was allegedly ‘captured’ by Pakistan in March 2016, was charge-sheeted, tried and sentenced to death by a military court in just 13 months. However, despite being in the army’s custody for 34 months, leave alone being tried, Ehsan wasn’t even charge-sheeted for the several acts of violence against Pakistani nationals for which he as spokesperson of TTP [and later JuA] had taken responsibility. This raises suspicions of Rawalpindi protecting the former TTP spokesperson.
In December 2017, a parent whose son was amongst the 149 killed in the 2014 Army Public School Peshawar terrorist attack approached Peshawar High Court [PHC] to prevent clemency being granted to Ehsan by Government of Pakistan. The fact that PHC took cognisance of this appeal and directed that Ehsan shouldn’t be released without a trial confirms that the petitioner’s plea had merit and wasn’t frivolous. So, retaining the former TTP spokesperson in military custody right from the time he surrendered [or was apprehended], and not charge-sheeting him for nearly three years is a clear indication that Rawalpindi never intended to bring Ehsan to book and this lurking suspicion is unambiguously confirmed by his mysterious escape.
With Pakistan ‘owned’ Taliban replacing the Ashraf Ghani government and no Indian presence in Afghanistan, TTP, which as per Islamabad was being manipulated by RAW and NDS should have shrivelled due to lack of patronage. However, after the regime change in Kabul, TTP seems to have become more aggressive and this rubbishes Islamabad’s claims backed by shady people like Eshan of TTP being New Delhi’s creation for “whipping up terrorism” in Pakistan. Furthermore, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s disclosure that Islamabad had initiated a “reconciliation process,” by commencing talks with TTP clearly indicates that this group is the product of ‘home grown’ terrorism in Pakistan.
In a country where the army and not the legislature calls the shots, it’s hard to believe that Rawalpindi would allow Islamabad to start these negotiations for many reasons. Firstly, it mocks the army’s claim that Pakistan “trusts that the Taliban will keep their promises and take effective measures to ensure TTP does not operate against any country from Afghan soil.” Secondly, it contradicts Pakistan army’s bold claim that “No element can challenge the state if the state has the will to weed out dangerous elements.” Lastly, even though Khan has tried to defend his army’s reputation by saying that “I am anti-military solution, and as a politician, I believe political dialogue is the way ahead,” the fact of the matter is that talks with TTP is tantamount to admission that Pakistan army is incapable in ridding Pakistan of this menace!
Though one wishes that Islamabad can convince TTP to eschew violence, but the prospects don’t appear to be very bright, and once again the fault lies within as political parties in Pakistan have generously promoted radicalism just to garner votes. However, it was Rawalpindi that actually institutionalised radicalism in Pakistan- former President and ex-army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf has himself admitted that “We poisoned Pakistani civil society for 10 years when we fought the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. It was ‘jihad’ and we brought in militants from all over the world, with the West and Pakistan together in the lead role.”
So, in reality, TTP isn’t an Indian proxy but a group of radicalised Pakistanis, “poisoned” by the military into believing that terrorism is ‘jihad’. Accordingly, for Khan to expect that TTP story to have a happy ending – they will lay down arms and in return “we [will] forgive them and they [will] become normal citizens,” is a tall order and a typical case of over-optimism. In 2014, Khan’s predecessor Nawaz Sharif too had entered into talks with TTP and instead of usher-in peace, it led to ‘Operation Zarb-e-Azb’ in which 490 army men were killed and nearly 2,000 injured.
Ultimately, it seems that former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s prophetic words “You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours. You know, eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard,” have come back to haunt both Islamabad and Rawalpindi!
Tailpiece: On September 30, Capt Sikander of Pakistan army was killed in a gunfight with TTP terrorists in Tank area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He was only 27 years old. One can only empathise with the grieving kith and kin of the unfortunate ones like Capt Sikandar who are being killed by the very terrorists with whom Islamabad is not only currently negotiating but also considering to grant amnesty!