A day after an audio clip, purportedly recorded and released by former Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan surfaced on social media, the question of whether one of Pakistan’s most-wanted men had indeed escaped from military custody still hung in the air on Friday.
In the audio clip, Ehsan, who is a former spokesman of both the banned TTP and later its offshoot, Jamaatul Ahrar (JuA), claimed that he had escaped from the custody of Pakistani security forces.
The TTP, and later the JUA, have claimed responsibility for carrying out scores of terrorist attacks on Pakistani soil over the years, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians and armed forces personnel.
The audio message, which has by now been widely shared on social media, was originally posted on a Facebook profile by the name of Liaqat Ali. The veracity of the audio message could not, however, be independently verified.
Intelligence sources that DawnNewsTV reached out to neither confirmed nor denied the reports.
Ehsan, whose real name is Liaqat Ali, said that he was forced to flee because Pakistani "institutions" had violated an agreement they had entered into with him, prior to his surrender.
Ehsan began his message by saying that he was "previously" associated with the TTP and JuA.
"I had surrendered myself to Pakistan's secret agencies on February 5, 2017, after an agreement," he said, adding that though he had abided by the agreement for three years, “Pakistani institutions” had imprisoned him and his children “against the spirit of the agreement”.
He continued: "We tolerated the hardships of imprisonment calmly for three years but eventually we were forced to make a plan to escape from there."
Ehsan went on to claim that he had escaped from custody on January 11, 2020, adding that he will "make clear" his future strategy after deciding it "soon".
The next day, The News quoted Ehsan as saying that he had escaped to Turkey, adding that he had refused to divulge details of the escape.
While there was no official word confirming or denying the development, netizens continued to demand answers regarding Ehsan’s whereabouts.
Former PPP senator Farhatullah Babar took to Twitter to voice his concern. “Reports that TTP spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan fled from custody highly disturbing. One of the two explanations possible; Complicity or sheer incompetence. What about massacred APS children? Jailing HR defenders and freeing self confessed terrorists. Demand explanation,” he tweeted.
Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) leader and MNA Mohsin Dawar echoed Babar’s thoughts.
“Worrying news coming in that TTP's Ehsanullah Ehsan has escaped. In no way can this be a result of incompetence. @OfficialDGISPR should confirm or deny this news. We demand a thorough investigation into this incident. No one is listening to our warnings about regrouping Taliban,” he tweeted.
At a press conference on April 17, 2017, the former director general of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, had announced that Ehsan had turned himself in to Pakistan's security agencies.
"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," he had said at the time.
"I want to take this opportunity to announce that Ehsanullah Ehsan, the former spokesperson of the TTP and a leader of the Jamaatul Ahrar, has turned himself in to our security agencies."
Who is Ehsanullah Ehsan?
Ehsan was associated with the TTP and served the outlawed organisation as its spokesperson. In 2014, after a split in the TTP, Ehsan had become a spokesperson for JuA — what was then a newly formed splinter group of the TTP.
Ehsan had claimed responsibility for the horrific attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in which more than 140 people, most of them children, were killed in December 2014.
In December 2017, the Peshawar High Court had barred the government from releasing Ehsan. The decision was taken by a two-member bench of the court on a writ petition filed by Fazal Khan, the father of a student killed in the December 16, 2014, APS attack.
The banned TTP had also claimed responsibility for shooting then 14-year-old peace activist Malala Yousafzai in the head, with Ehsan later issuing a statement using Islamic Shariah to defend the attack.