Families of students martyred during the Army Public School massacre staged a demonstration on Wednesday to protest the reported escape of former Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan.
The demonstrators, led by Shuhada APS Forum President Advocate Fazal Khan, gathered outside the Peshawar Press Club, and shouted slogans against the militant's reported escape. They also demanded the government to address the questions surrounding Ehsan's escape and launch an investigation into the matter.
“The news of escape has created a sense of deprivation among the APS victims,” Khan said. He added that the government's silence over the matter has raised questions.
“How can a terrorist escape from a highly-guarded red zone area? It’s a good joke,” he said.
While addressing the protesters, Khan said that the grieving parents have been struggling for justice but the government has refused to pay heed to their demands.
The victims' parents said that news of Ehsan's escape had reopened their wounds of losing their children to terrorists. The demonstrators were also carrying banners, inscribed with slogans calling for justice.
The demonstrators dispersed peacefully after recording their protest.
Last week, Advocate Khan had filed a petition in the Peshawar High Court, seeking contempt of court proceedings against multiple government officials following reports of the militant's escape.
On December 16, 2014, armed terrorists broke into APS building in Peshawar, killing more than 140 people, most of them children. The massacre, which was claimed by the TTP, had prompted the government and national institutions to draw up the National Action Plan and Operation Zarb-i-Azb was launched by the military.
News of Ehsan's escape surfaced when a short audio message, allegedly from the former militant spokesman disclosed that on January 11, 2020, he had managed to escape from the “custody of the Pakistani security authorities”. Notwithstanding his latest claim of being in Turkey, some sources believe the former militant spokesman is in Afghanistan.
Sources have said that Ehsan fled during one of the operations to capture and target terrorists, adding that the TTP spokesman had to be tried for his crimes but before that, all possible information had to be extracted from him to conclude the operations and that it was during one such operation that he was able to flee.
The audio message attributed to Ehsan, whose real name is Liaqat Ali, said that the TTP spokesman had surrendered to a Pakistani security agency on Feb 5, 2017 under an agreement. The message claimed Ehsan had honoured his part of the agreement and alleged that Pakistani authorities violated their terms and kept him in a prison along with his family.
The audio, which has not been independently verified, also claimed that Ehsan faced hardships during his custody and that circumstances compelled him to plan his escape.
The audio message did not provide details of the escape but said that Ehsan would release “terms of the agreement” he had entered into with Pakistani authorities, the “approving authority” and “the individual who had furnished assurances” with regard to its implementation.
Earlier in a call to a Pakistani newspaper, the former militant spokesman claimed that he was in Turkey, along with his wife, son and daughter but refused to say how he had managed to reach there.
Surprisingly, Ehsan’s escape was first reported by an Indian weekly — SundayGuardianLive (TSG), published simultaneously from Delhi and Mumbai — on January 18, 2020, barely a week after his purported escape.
Authored by Abhinandan Mishra, the report, quoting “Pakistan-based sources”, said the militant spokesman had fled from his safe house, where he was being kept along with his family. It further claimed that the following day, Pakistani authorities swooped down on Ehsan’s native place in Sagibala village in Safi subdivision of Mohmand tribal district and detained his father, brother and uncle to know about his whereabouts.
In his first interview with a private Pakistani television channel in May 2017, Ehsan had provided details of the working of the Afghanistan-based TTP and JUA and their nexus with the Afghan intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security and Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing.
The TSG story was shared widely on social media platforms; however, it did not elicit any comments from the Pakistani authorities and nor did attempts to get a reaction from the relevant quarters yield any response.
Sources said that long before his voluntary surrender, Ehsan had started sharing sensitive information with Pakistani security agencies.