THE military’s revelation this week about the escape of former TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan has given rise to more questions about an incident that was already steeped in mystery. It has now been confirmed by the army that Ehsan escaped from its custody a year ago — a development that had been largely met with conspicuous silence, until now, from both the government and security establishment.

The military’s official disclosure of action against those responsible for the escape is a step in the right direction as Ehsan’s escape is indeed a serious matter. However, details about the events that led to Ehsan’s surrender and eventual getaway are few.

It is alarming that the nation knows so little about the circumstances of the escape of a terrorist who has in the past claimed with relish some of the most chilling terror attacks in Pakistan — including the killing of scores of students in the Army Public School attack as well as the assassination attempt on rights activist and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai. In 2017, Ehsan was said to have given himself up to the army and remained in its custody for three years. In this period, the military released a video interview in which he admitted to committing terror acts while also alleging that Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies had given operational and financial assistance to the TTP and Jamaatul Ahrar.

In January 2020, rumours of his miraculous ‘escape’ started to make the rounds, with no official comment from the state aside from a fleeting confirmation from then interior minister Ijaz Shah. Soon after, Ehsan released audio tapes confirming his escape and thereafter has been linked to multiple Twitter accounts. Last week, an account purportedly linked to him threatened Malala Yousafzai. Shockingly, this high-profile terrorist who was arguably instrumental in the TTP’s terror operations in the country has never been formally charged or presented in any court of law.

The lack of transparency surrounding the entire Ehsanullah Ehsan affair is unacceptable. The defence establishment and interior ministry must provide answers and demonstrate that those who were responsible for his escape were held accountable. It is not clear how many military personnel were involved in this incident and what the investigation into their actions revealed. Without the facts, the truth will remain elusive — as will justice for the scores of citizens who have suffered due to the deadly violence a group like the TTP and its accessory Ehsan have perpetuated.

The pain and suffering of these families, especially those who are still looking for answers to the APS massacre, will continue if events such as this remain shrouded in secrecy. Silence will make way for disinformation and alternative ‘truths’, both of which will undermine the pledge the government and military made to eradicate terror through counterterrorism strategies and operations.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2021

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