KARACHI: Interior Min­ister Ijaz Shah on Monday confirmed that Ehsanullah Ehsan, a former spokesman for the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), had escaped from the custody of security agencies.

Responding to a question during an informal conversation with journalists at the Parliament House in Islamabad, the minister said he had read reports about the former TTP leader’s escape. When asked whether there was any truth in such reports, he replied: “The news is true, it’s true.”

Mr Shah’s statement is the first official acknowledgement of the development.

The minister said the state was aware of Ehsan’s escape, but did not provide details.

When asked what the state was doing on the matter, he said: “A lot is being done. You will hear good news.”

Meanwhile, sources said that Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had submitted a question to the Natio-nal Assembly Secretariat, seeking the interior minister’s response to the issue on the floor of the house.

He has asked the minister to inform the assembly “whether Ehsanullah Ehsan, the spokesperson for the TTP, is under the custody of the law enforcement agencies of Pakistan?”

“If the answer…is negative, is it true that he escaped from the custody as is being widely reported? What is the current status of his incarceration?” the PPP leader asked.

Last week, opposition parties sought an explanation from the government about Ehsan’s “mysterious escape” and demanded the matter be referred to a parliamentary committee for investigation. The issue was raised in the National Assembly where members questioned the government’s silence on the issue.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari said the escape was proof of the government’s “incompetence and failure”.

The Senate Standing Committee on Interior also sought a report from the interior ministry on the escape.

Earlier this month, the former militant spokesman in a call to a Pakistani newspaper had claimed that he was in Turkey, along with his wife, son and daughter, but refused to say how he had managed to reach there.

Ehsan’s escape was first reported by an Indian weekly newspaper on Jan 18 — barely a week after his escape. The report quoted “Pakistan-based sources” as saying that he had fled his ‘safe house’ where he was being kept along with his family.

Later, a short audio message purportedly recorded and released by Ehsan surfaced on social media. In the message, he had disclosed that he had on Jan 11 managed to escape from the “custody of the Pakistani security authorities”.

Ehsan, whose real name is Liaquat Ali, said he had surrendered to a Pakistani security agency on Feb 5, 2017, under an agreement. He claimed that he had honoured his part of the agreement, but alleged that the Pakistani authorities had violated its terms and kept him in a prison along with his family.

In 2017, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) had announced that Ehsan had turned himself in to security agencies.

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.

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2020