By: Tahir Khan
Pakistan’s counter-terror strategy recently received a boost when a prominent figure of the Pakistani Taliban handed himself over to the security forces. The surrender of Ehsanullah Ehsan, one of the famous faces among the Pakistani Taliban leaders, was a surprising move as he had been very harsh about the Pakistani forces until recently. Ehsan has served as former spokesman for the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and its splinter group Jamaat ul Ahrar. Military’s spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor avoided sharing details about Ehsan surrender at his press conference on Monday. Gen Ghafoor confirmed that Ehsan is the forces’ custody.
Sources familiar with the important development say that Ehsan had “voluntarily struck a deal with the government” and that he has told his friends that he “has returned to Pakistan and surrendered with the message of peace.” Ehsan, who had been active to contact media persons in Pakistan, had mysteriously stopped replies to queries on March 14. Ehsan’s decision could be seen as a serious blow to the Taliban, which also indicates growing differences in the ranks and files of the militants. The development came at a time when the security forces have mounted pressure on the armed groups and are even targeting their alleged sanctuaries on the Afghan side of the border.
Ehsan’s surrender could inspire other Pakistani militants to lay down arms in the wake of offer by the military to give up militancy. Besides action by the Pakistani forces to hit the Pakistani militants inside Afghanistan, the militant sources have confirmed the increased strikes by the American spy aircraft have also inflicted losses on them and limited their activities. The surrender of the TTP JA leader could be very useful for the Pakistani security forces to extract information about the hideouts of the militants in the Afghan border regions, where he lived since 2014 and until he crossed the border to surrender to the forces in Mohmand agency.
Sources in Mohmand tribal region have confided to the writer that Ehsan surrendered to the security forces nearly two weeks ago. The local political administration was also aware of the development as the authorities in Mohmand are also putting pressure on the relatives and family members to persuade the militants lay down arms and return. On April 4 the ISPR claimed that eight members of the banned Jamaat-ul-Ahrar had surrendered before the Army in Mohmand Agency. The military wing had identified only Akbar, Gull, Siraj but kept identity of five of others secret. There were also speculations about his surrender in Mohmand agency earlier this month, according correspondents in the region.
The army insists that majority of the TTP and other groups have fled to Afghanistan after the major operation codenamed “Zarb-e-Azab” in 2014 deprived them of their last stronghold. Ehsan would contact the media from Miranshah to claim responsibility for the attacks. Whatever the circumstances that led to Ehsan surrender, it could be seen as a serious blow to the TTP JA, which had been behind many of the terrorist attacks in recent months.
The security forces had mounted pressure on the Taliban groups, which Gen Ghafoor insisted operate from the Afghan soil, after the series of attacks in February. Nearly 100 people were killed only in five days that led to shelling of the hideouts of the Pakistani militants in Afghan border regions. Pakistani militants are mostly believed to be based in eastern Kunar, Nangarhar and Nuristan provinces.
Who is Ehsan?
Despite being media Ehsan had always been controversial since he had joined the TTP in January 2008, about year after Baitullah Mehsud, launched the TTP in South Waziristan. He belongs to Sagi Bala village in Sapai tehsil in Mohmand agency, who had done his metric in High School Lakaro and FA from Bajaur Degree College. He was initially served as the TTP spokesman in Mohmand agency but had been using the name of Sajjad Mohmand. He later shifted to Waziristan and was made the TTP’s central spokesman and would operate from North Waziristan until the military launched major operation in June 2014. Majority of the TTP and other militants fled to Afghanistan. The TTP leadership had sacked him in July 2013 over his remarks against the Afghan Taliban.
In August 2014, Ehsan joined some other senior commanders from Mohmand agency to launch the TTP splinter group Jamaatul Ahrar over “frustration at internal fighting, lack of coordination and mistrust among the leaders.” TTP that time was in disarray as another powerful faction of the Mehsud faction of the TTP had also parted ways with the main group. Ehsan was also removed as the TTP JA spokesman in February for unknown reason. The group appointed Asad Mansoor as new spokesman. Ehsan was given another position, but he had been in contact with the media until last month.
The TTP Mohmand chapter had worked as “state within a state” during their association with the TTP. When the TTP leadership agreed to start peace dialogue with the PML-N gov’t in early 2014, the Mohmand faction brutally slaughtered 23 FC men in Feb 2014, who taken captive earlier from the Shongrai check post in June 2010. It was the same faction which attacked the Islamabad courts attack On 3 March 2014, killing eleven people and injuring over 20 others. A little known “Ahrar-ul-Hind” had claimed responsibility but it was in fact TTP JA which was behind the attack.
Recent remarks by Afghan ambassador in Islamabad Omar Zakhilwal that Pakistan and Afghanistan could launch joint operation against the TTP chief Maulvi Fazalullah could be a message to the Pakistani militants, who are blamed for attacks on the border posts and villages. Officials say that Pakistani and Afghan advisers in their London talks last month had reached some understanding to act on the lists of the wanted militants both sides had exchanged in February.
One could hope that Ehsan’s surrender would further help the country in countering the menace of terrorism which has constantly hurt Pakistan for the past 16 years.
The author is editor NNI news agency, and also a member of CRSS’s Track II Diplomacy initiative, Beyond Boundaries, with Afghanistan.