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Pakistan Army: Twice ‘Bitten’ By TTP, Yet Not Shy – OpEd

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For years, Pakistan army’s media wing Inter Services Public Relation [ISPR] had been claiming that it was the unholy nexus between New Delhi and previous regimes in Kabul which was solely responsible for unending spate of terrorist violence within the country. So, when Taliban seized power in Afghanistan last year, even those Pakistanis who detested this proscribed terrorist group’s fundamentalist ideology and barbaric activities heaved a big sigh of relief as they genuinely believed that the alleged reign of terror unleashed from Afghanistan soil by India’s spy agency Research and Analysis Wing [RAW] and its erstwhile Afghan counterpart National Directorate of Security [NDS] would finally come to an end.

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However, this was not to be and ISPR’s cock and bull story about an Indo-Afghan ‘conspiracy’ to destabilise Pakistan collapsed like a house of cards in August 2021, when despite its protégé, the Afghan Taliban taking over control of Kabul, there was no let up in attacks on Pakistani security forces by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] terrorists and armed Baloch groups, which as per Islamabad’s claims were being patronised by RAW and NDS. In fact, 2021 accounted for the highest number of TTP attacks on Pakistani security forces in more than a decade.

TTP has itself admitted carrying out 282 attacks on Pakistani security forces in 2021 and killing 509 service personnel. Even if we discount these figures by 50 percent on grounds that the same may be exaggerated, the number of attacks and fatalities is still humongous. In addition to killing several officers and soldiers of Pakistan army, TTP is also guilty of the most despicble crime- murdering more than 130 innocent students [mostly wards of defence personnel] during the Army Public School Peshawar carnage in 2014 .

Besides these killings, TTP has a very poor track record as far as negotiations are concerned- it not only wrecked an ongoing dialogue with Islamabad in 2014 by carrying out the Karachi airport attack, but also unilaterally decided not to extend the month-long ceasefire in December last year. So, since Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had  himself declared in January this year that “Terrorists shall be brought to justice and blood of the martyrs will not go waste,” few had expected that Pakistan army, which boasts of its unmatched military prowess, would allow the government to negotiate with TTP this time.

However, despite Rawalpindi’s repeated claims of having got the upper hand in its fight with terrorists, the fact of the matter is that Pakistan army’s war on terror has been abysmal failure, and thus, it has no other option but to peddle allegations of ‘foreign hand’ involvement to justify its own professional incompetence and failures. That’s why when the then Prime Minister Imran Khan announced last year that Islamabad was negotiating with TTP, those aware of Pakistan’s power structure weren’t surprised as this was obviously a decision approved [or even mooted by] Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Though Rawalpindi has been talking tough against terrorism, something seems amiss when it comes to TTP and the inexplicable ‘escape’ of former TTP spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan from Pakistan army’s custody two years ago raises several questions that Rawalpindi hasn’t been able to convincingly answer till date. Readers would recall that in April 2017, DGISPR claimed that Ehsan had “surrendered” to the Pakistan army [a claim refuted by TTP which clarified that Ehsan was arrested by the Pakistan army]. ISPR released a video in which this former TTP spokesperson spoke at length about how New Delhi was patronising TTP and paying it ‘reward money’ for carrying out terrorist attacks in Pakistan.

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So, if what Ehsan said was indeed true, then being an eyewitness to New Delhi’s alleged ‘dirty game’, Ehsan was really an invaluable asset for Pakistan as his revelations would tremendously bolster Rawalpindi’s claim that India was using terrorist groups to destabilise Pakistan. Furthermore, since Ehsan was the spokesperson of TTP at a time when former Indian Navy officer and alleged ‘RAW agent’ Kulbhushan Jadav was supposedly interacting with this terrorist group and orchestrating terrorist activities inside Pakistan, his testimony was crucial for nailing India’s so called ‘proxy war’. For Pakistan, Ehsan was just what the doctor had ordered, and one expected that the Pakistan army  would have taken due care to ensure his security!

But things started getting suspicious when Pakistan army failed to chargesheet Ehsan even after more than two years of his purported ‘surrender’, and its excuse that “Ehsan would be brought to justice, but first it was necessary to extract information from him to take the anti-terrorism operations to a logical conclusion,” wasn’t convincing at all. It’s common knowledge that once a terrorist is arrested, it’s certain that he would be coerced or induced into revealing information regarding the whereabouts of his associates, and so, the moment such an arrest is announced, other members of the concerned terrorist group take immediate actions to change locations and go ‘underground’ to evade apprehension.

Accordingly, any worthwhile information that an apprehended or surrendered terrorist can give about his associates becomes worthless within a matter of weeks, if not days. That’s why expecting such a person to be in a position to provide ‘actionable intelligence’ even after more than two years of his questionable ‘surrender’, is pure humbug! Furthermore, the revelation that Ehsan was staying with his family while in the army’s custody makes the whole issue curiouser, and his miraculous ‘escape’ from military detention alongwith his entire family two years and eight months after his so claimed “surrender,” can only be termed as something absolutely bizarre!

On joining the dots, it becomes apparent that there are far too many unusualities in this case, which gives further credence to suspicions that Rawalpindi had actually released Ehsan and cooked up the incredible ‘escape’ story. The probable reason for letting him get away may not be clear, but what’s most certain is that Ehsan would have never ever been able to break out from military custody along with his entire family without the blessing of Pakistan army’s top brass. The fact that ISPR chose to keep this ‘escape’ under wraps and only admitted the same after an Indian news channel broke this news makes this incident all the more mysterious.  

Coming back to the issue of Islamabad-TTP talks, let’s not forget that in December last year, it was the TTP which unilaterally walked-out of the month-long ceasefire with the Pakistan army that had been brokered by the Afghan Taliban. DGISPR had tried to wriggle out from this embarrassing situation by saying that the ceasefire “was a confidence-building measure taken ahead of talks,” adding that “… some conditions [set by TTP] that were non-negotiable from our side [and] so there is no ceasefire [as of now].” Then with the characteristic flourish of the Pakistan army, he pompously declared, “We are continuing with operations [against TTP] and will continue till we get rid of this menace.”

Amazingly, just within five months after DGISPR pledged military action till the TTP “menace” was finally eradicated, Pakistan army has once again eaten its words by accepting a ten-day Eid ceasefire unilaterally declared by TTP, which has since been extended by five days. In the meantime, Pakistan army has handed over two top ranking hard core TTP terrorists [Muslim Khan and Mehmood Khan] who are complicit in planning and executing several attacks against Pakistani security forces that claimed several lives. Needless to say, this ignominious deal is tantamount to mocking the supreme sacrifice made by the rank and file of Pakistan army while fighting TTP.

Rawalpindi knows that by pandering to TTP’s unjustified demand for releasing the confirmed killers of Pakistan army officers and soldiers would invite public criticism and perhaps that’s why it has fallen back on its pet ploy of using ingenious means to avoid backlash. While it conjured a phantastic ‘escape’ story to conceal wilful release of a former TTP spokesperson in February 2020, it has presently chosen to avoid mentioning the word ‘release’ and instead opted to assert that the two TTP commanders have been ‘handed over’ to Afghan Taliban. So, even though the end result of this ‘handing over’ would be their release, Rawalpindi can [like always] adroitly use semantics as a fig leaf to protect its image and professional modesty!

Tailpiece: By scuttling negotiations, TTP has already led the Pakistan army up the garden path not once but twice. So, one doesn’t have to be Nostradamus to predict that [just like in the past], any attempt by Rawalpindi to rein-in TTP through appeasement is bound to fail.

Nilesh Kunwar

Nilesh Kunwar is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. He is a ‘Kashmir-Watcher,’ and now after retirement is pursuing his favorite hobby of writing for newspapers, journals and think tanks.

2 thoughts on “Pakistan Army: Twice ‘Bitten’ By TTP, Yet Not Shy – OpEd

  • May 15, 2022 at 1:45 pm
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    Pakistan is trapped in its own web of malicious propaganda to divert attention from its domestic problems arising from failing economy

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  • May 15, 2022 at 3:36 pm
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    This process is also being repeated in India where Centre is appeasing(or even directly supporting) sectarian outfits in an undecidedly ironic resemblance with what Zia ul-Haq did to Islamist outfits decades ago.
    Today since their government is in power they are behaving themselves and violence is limited to fringe outliers,but if ten or maybe twenty years from now an ideological rival is elected one can only wish that these communal forces abide by democratic will rather than taking the TTP option lest India faces the same quandary befalling Rawalpindi right now.

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