Terrorist at large

February 16, 2020

Ehsanullah Ehsan was a dangerous man before he surrendered and will continue to pose grave danger after his escape

It has been difficult for the government to explain the mysterious escape of the former spokesperson of two major Pakistani militant groups, Ehsanullah Ehsan. It has yet to make a formal comment – despite facing strong criticism for the security lapse.

All one has heard is a brief statement by an unnamed security official to a foreign news agency confirming Ehsan’s escape. This amounts to nothing as the video released by Ehsan is itself a confirmation that he is no longer in the custody of Pakistani authorities. The tough language used by him in the Urdu audio message against Pakistan’s intelligence agencies is also evidence that he is now a free man with no fear of getting re-captured.

It is obvious that Ehsan recorded the message once he had reached a place where he felt safe. Until now, there has been a guessing game about his whereabouts after his escape. Afghanistan was frequently mentioned, as it is where Ehsan spent several years along with other militants after fleeing the major military operations undertaken by Pakistan’s security forces in the FATA, now merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

In his audio statement Ehsan didn’t mention the place where he is now based, though he reluctantly told a journalist when pressed that he had safely reached Turkey. When this was reported in The News International, he initially reacted angrily by criticising the newspaper for reporting something that was off-the-record, but later relented and said it was okay, as whatever Allah has decided will happen. If he is indeed in Turkey, questions arise as to how and with whose help did he and his wife, son and daughter get Turkish visas, took flights to reach there and found a place to stay.

Many are sceptical about Ehsan’s claim that he is in Turkey, though several former Afghan Taliban militants have made their way there in recent years. Among them was Agha Jan Mutassem, the former Afghan Taliban Finance Commission head and now a dissident, who escaped to Turkey after he survived an attempt on his life in Karachi resulting from internal rifts. Mutassem was apparently helped by the Afghan government.

If one were to believe Ehsan, he escaped on January 11 along with his family. He waited until February 6 before issuing his statement about the escape. This gave him enough time to shift to somewhere secure. He has made many enemies and is a wanted man. He has to be wary of both Pakistani intelligence and law-enforcement agencies and his fellow militants, who were angered by his confessional statement telecast on Pakistani TV channels after his surrender on February 5, 2017 in which he narrated how the outlawed terrorist groups, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Jamaat-ul-Ahraar had developed links with the Afghan intelligence agency, National Directorate of Security (NDS) and India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and were getting paid for carrying out acts of terrorism in Pakistan. If he makes good on his promise made in his audio statement to expose the activities of Pakistani intelligence agencies, having seen the working during his custody, Ehsan could even offer his services to a bidder among the anti-Pakistan spy agencies. He was a dangerous man before he surrendered and will continue to pose grave danger after his escape.

If one were to believe Ehsan, he escaped on January 11 along with his family. He waited until February 6 before issuing his statement about the escape. This gave him enough time to shift to somewhere secure.

Ehsan had surrendered to Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency under an agreement terms of which remain unknown. He claimed in his audio statement that the government violated the agreement and kept him in custody for about three years, forcing him to devise a plan to escape. He promised to reveal the details of the agreement and the name of the prominent figure who had guaranteed its implementation. Questions are being asked whether he was allowed to finally walk free under the terms of that agreement.

Ehsan was no ordinary prisoner and, therefore, his escape made headlines. Questions were raised in the country and abroad as to how someone who regularly claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks in Pakistan in the past managed to escape with such apparent ease. He had served as spokesperson for both the TTP and Jamaat-ul-Ahraar for about nine years and proudly claimed attacks that killed scores of innocent people.

Ehsan’s real name is Liaqat Ali. He belongs to the Mohmand tribal district. He was initially the TTP spokesperson, but assumed this role for the Jamaat-ul-Ahraar when the latter broke away under the leadership of Abdul Wali aka Omar Khalid Khorasani. The Jamaat-ul-Ahraar was primarily led by and made up of militants from Mohmand district and Ehsan joined it even though he had a much bigger and important role as the spokesperson for the mainstream TTP.

Some of the attacks that were claimed by Ehsan as the TTP and Jamaat-ul-Ahraar spokesperson included the one on Malala Yousafzai in Swat in October 2012, another one in Gilgit-Baltistan in which nine foreign trekkers were killed, the big one at the Wagha border with India in which more than 50 people were martyred and many others targeting Shias and Christians, etc. However, he had made no claim about the horrendous terrorist assault on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar on December 16, 2014 in which 147 people, including 132 schoolchildren, were martyred. In fact, he condemned the attack on the school and the killing of innocent children. The claim of responsibility was made by the Maulana Fazlullah-led TTP, which by then had become a rival of the Jamaat-ul-Ahraar for which Ehsan was working at the time.

However, this hasn’t stopped parents of many martyred APS children from condemning Ehsan as they continue to believe that he had made the claim of responsibility for this attack. The Shuhada Forum of the aggrieved parents led by a Peshawar lawyer, Fazal Khan, who lost his son in the APS tragedy, staged a protest against the government for failing to stop Ehsan’s escape. They also approached the Peshawar High Court (PHC) with a plea to initiate contempt of court proceedings against the concerned government officials for violating the court’s earlier orders that barred them from releasing Ehsan without an order of the PHC. The case in the court would go nowhere now that Ehsan has gotten away.

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. He can be reached at rahimyusufzai@yahoo.com

Terrorist at large: Ehsanullah Ehsan's mysterious escape from custody