Taliban spokesperson’s ‘confessional’ video raises more questions for Pakistani security establishment….writes Syed Shihabudeen
On April 24, the Pakistani Army’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) released a video in which a senior Pakistani Taliban leader, Ehsanullah Ehsan spoke of the purported connections of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) with Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies. The six-minute long ‘confessional’ video has since then been used by the Pakistan Army to confirm its long-insisted allegations that the Afghan and Indian agencies are funding and helping the TTP and its affiliates to carry out terrorist attacks in the country.
Ehsan, the former spokesperson of the TTP and then the splinter group Jamaat Ul Ahrar (JuA), was a regular face till some time back on Pakistani television channels claiming responsibility for some of the deadliest attacks in the country. These included the Army Public School (APS), Peshawar massacre of December 2015 and the Bacha Khan University attack of January 2016. But this is the first time that the militant has appeared on TV talking about the functioning of the TTP and its purported foreign linkages.
Though from the video it was quite clear that the former TTP spokesperson was reading out from a prepared text, his ‘confession’ on an alleged Afghan and Indian nexus and involvement in Pakistan is interesting for various reasons.
He claims that the TTP received money from Afghan and Indian security agencies, but doesn’t mention why the group was formed in the first place, with the stated intention of targeting the Pakistani state. Ehsan also mentions that he had pointed out to Umar Khalid Khorasani (the TTP leader from Mohmand Agency) about the funding from India (it is unclear which year). Yet for all these years he chose to stick with the group, rather than going public with the ‘evidence’. Also, apparently Ehsan’s conscience was dysfunctional, when he claimed the responsibility on behalf of his group, for the APS Peshawar attack that left 141 people including, 132 schoolchildren dead.
The logical question to follow Ehsan’s confession is that if the Army and the ISI knew about the Indian and Afghan involvement, what steps the ‘dreaded’ Pak security establishment took to address the problem. But clearly the Pakistan Army doesn’t want the public discussion to be focused on those issues lest it raises some really valid questions on its ability to defend Pakistan’s sovereignty.
Pakistan has long claimed that India and Afghanistan have been responsible for fanning unrest in the country. Although terrorist attacks in Pakistan have varied over time in their lethality as well as public outcry, one thing has remained constant: the whine of the civilian and military leadership that it is India which is behind this terrorist violence.
Previously, at least on two occasions, Pakistan has presented a ‘credible’ evidence of the Indian involvement, but that evidence didn’t withstand an intense scrutiny. In 2010, speaking in Islamabad, then Interior Minister, Rehman Malik had said, “We are not levelling mere allegations against India but we have solid evidence of Indian involvement in Baluchistan. The weapons recovered from various areas were Indian-made.” Yet there was no evidence forthcoming. Pakistan’s duplicity was evident when a Baluch insurgent leader appeared in a video, showing his cache of weapons, which were ironically marked ‘Made in China’.
In October 2015, Pakistan handed over to the United Nations Secretary General (UNSG), three dossiers allegedly containing proof of the Indian involvement in terrorist activities in Pakistan. But nothing has been heard of those dossiers since then. In any case Pakistani officials are on record saying that those dossiers contained the “pattern and narrative” of Indian involvement – a euphemism for empty rhetoric – rather than any ‘material evidence’.
Impressive rhetoric doesn’t make for substantial evidence – and it is precisely the case with the Pakistani accusations.
What the Pakistani Army, ISI and the ISPR don’t realise is that the more they highlight this ‘foreign hand’ theory, the more questions are raised on their ability to protect their country’s territory and citizens from militant and terrorist attacks. Forensic investigation and unraveling a terrorist conspiracy are complicated tasks, but the Pakistani establishment doesn’t have the intent or the capability to undertake such a tedious and honest examination but finds it much easier to point fingers at India or Afghanistan for the attacks.
But even more importantly, in its single point agenda against India, the message coming from the Pakistani Army is loud and clear: you are free to join any terrorist group in Pakistan and kill as many people as you can. But if you can blame all that violence on foreign powers (read India), you will be lapped up by the Army and everything will be forgiven. Reports are already indicative that Ehsanullah Ehsan may have cut a deal with the Pakistani Army that he will be allowed to go scot free if he surrenders. As one commentator said, “Today, while the nation is still trying to decide if yesterday’s monster can be today’s patriot, the Pakistani Army has already made it clear that it wants to have the last word on the subject.”
By this act laden with grave implications, Pakistan has added another chapter in its policy of ‘good and bad terrorists’ turning Ehsan into a ‘strategic asset’. The radicalisation of Pakistani society and the extremist mindset is the result of nurturing and supporting these assets. This policy is part of the problem rather than the solution. It is the same logic by which Pakistan has sought to shrug off its role in the so-called Afghan Holy War of 1979-89.
Time and again Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership has flogged the issue of Indian and Afghan involvement, whenever they have found themselves cornered. Therefore, it appears that bringing out Ehsanullah Ehsan’s video is a diversionary tactic when the country has been isolated regionally from most of its neighbours: Afghanistan has in recent weeks reprimanded Pakistan for allowing the Afghan Taliban to carry out activities on the former’s soil; Iran has threatened to hit out at the Sunni terrorist groups based in Pakistan if Islamabad does not confront these groups carrying out cross-border attacks; and India, which has over the years proven with credible evidence the role of Pakistani Army and the ISI in perpetuating cross-border terrorism and destablising situation in Kashmir, has successfully managed to bring other south Asian countries on board in pointing out Pakistan’s role of a perennial trouble maker in the region.
Clearly, Pakistan is trying to portray itself as a victim of terrorism, even as it actively sponsors and perpetuates terrorism in the region.