The military should show the former Pakistani Taliban spokesman for the animal he is, rather than a reformed asset
Ehsanullah Ehsan, now in the custody of the Pakistan Army, is a notorious terrorist. As the spox for the Pakistani Taliban and, later, its faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, he claimed responsibility for multiple deadly terror attacks, including deadly bombings in public places that killed scores, including children. Ehsan threatened journalists and civil society activists, and gave no indication, at any time, that he was (or still is) grappling with any moral dilemmas.
Here’s what we know now. His given name is Liaquat Ali but he used, like most other TTP/JuA terrorists, a nom de guerre. He joined the terror organization in 2008 while he was a college student. During the nine years that he served the terrorist end of these bloodthirsty groups, his ruddy, smiling face would occasionally appear in photographs and videos strategically released by these organizations. He went to Afghanistan along with the other terrorist leaders when Pakistan launched Op Zarb-e Azb. He voluntarily surrendered to the Army sometime in the near past.
What is still not known: We have, so far, no idea of the circumstances that led to his surrender. He does not come across as someone who is weighed down by remorse. At the minimum, remorse would have snatched the smile off his face. Did he fear he was falling out of favor with his leadership? We don’t know. Did Pakistani intelligence find something on him which forced him to make a choice and strike an immunity-for-information deal? We don’t know. What guarantees has he got which have made him take this immense risk? Because one thing should be absolutely clear: he now has a bulls-eye painted on his back.
The answers to these questions are important because immunity for a terrorist whose hands are dripping with blood is neither an easy call nor a popular sell. The benefits of granting immunity to such a loathsome criminal must terribly outweigh the cost of doing so.
Let me here concede that that is not sharable information. Not in the near future, at least. That would jeopardize any ongoing intelligence and military operations. There’s another point too. No matter how abominable a terrorist, no matter the deep satisfaction one might get by seeing him hung by the neck, the broader strategy must always trump the desire for retribution. Put another way, if working out a quid pro quo can result in any meaningful operations to bust terrorist networks and sleeper cells and degrade their leadership, the deal is worth it. Retribution comes later. ‘Reformed’ terrorists have a way of getting killed and one hopes that Liaquat Ali aka Ehsanullah Ehsan is no exception to that rule.
Let’s see what we have got so far.
Ehsan is a big catch, for sure. He belongs to the innermost sanctum of the TTP and JuA. He is privy to vital information. This information has two aspects: background and ongoing ops. Background information is always crucial to figuring out missing links and completing the picture.
The second part is ongoing ops. This becomes dated after a while. There’s a small window in which to operate, especially now that the TTP/JuA vermin know that he is singing. That said developing and putting the terrorist infrastructure together takes time. And while the TTP/JuA will now be racing to save as many of its cadres/sleeper cells as they can, uprooting everything is not so easy. At the minimum, it disrupts operations and drives people underground, awaiting next orders.
Additionally, we now know their locations in Afghanistan. We know who they are in contact with in Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, and by extension, India’s Research and Analysis Wing. We know how their operations are funded, what channels they use, who supports them, et cetera. All of this is crucial information.
But, as I said, the other side is not naive, especially if it’s in contact with not just one but two hostile intelligence agencies. They will be in the fast process of covering tracks and cleaning up. This is where every passing day diminishes Ehsanullah Ehsan’s usefulness.
For the narrative, since this is now the sexy term, he has been useful. TTP/JuA leaders Fazlullah and Omar Khalid Khurasani look ridiculous. Khurasani moves frequently, has three wives, got injured in a NATO raid. And where did he go for treatment? India. I can see heads shaking. But narratives are not about skepticism. They are about belief, exactly the same kind of belief that gets TTP/JuA its recruits who will happily die and kill in the process. Fazlullah was selected through a draw. Visualize the setting. It’s the dream of cartoonists and comedians. That’s how narratives are attacked and counter-narratives constructed.
What did Peru do when the government captured Abimael Guzman, the philosophy professor who led the terrible Sandero Luminoso (Shining Path) movement, from an apartment in Lima? They paraded him and made him look ridiculous.
It’s good to parade Ehsanullah Ehsan and show what TTP/JuA are. But, and this is absolutely crucial, immunity or no immunity, make him and his former terrorist friends looks like the animals they are. The point of such an exercise is not to present Ehsanullah Ehsan as the reformed brother of Mother Teresa, but as a terrorist with blood on his hands, to cut through the ideological hoax the TTP/JuA use to recruit and train people, to show them up for the animals they are.
Bring him on television. Place the pictures of the women and children killed in Iqbal Park last year before him and ask him what he thinks. Grill him on how that bombing was planned, how the attackers were prepped for that atrocity, what were they expecting in the hereafter after doing what they did. What was Ehsanullah Ehsan doing for more than two years before ‘voluntarily’ surrendering to the Army? This is just one. Take him step by step through every attack they launched and claimed responsibility for.
That’s the only way to make him useful. Do I want to know if he pens poetry? Hell, no. Do I want to know if he played cricket or whether he likes this or that singer? &*^%, no. Putting him on TV should be about a single-point agenda: make him and the TTP/JuA look ridiculous and murderous. Anything beyond that is a travesty of decency and justice.
Postscript: As I finished writing these lines, news came in that PEMRA has banned a private channel from airing a scheduled interview with Ehsanullah Ehsan. I don’t know the content of that interview but if it serves Ehsan’s purpose then it shouldn’t be aired. If, on the other hand, it makes him and his erstwhile terrorist companions look murderous and comical, PEMRA might want to reconsider its decision.
Haider is editor of national-security affairs at Capital TV. He was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. He tweets @ejazhaider