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Pakistan’s High Court Halts Release of Ex-Taliban Spokesman

WASHINGTON – Pakistan’s Peshawar High Court on Wednesday ruled that Ehsanullah Ehsan, the former spokesman of U.S.-designated terrorist group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), be kept in captivity.

The ruling came after concerns that Pakistani authorities might release Ehsan as part of a deal with TTP’s commander. The court asked the state to continue the investigation of Ehsan.

In a detailed response to the court, the government said it would continue to keep him under custody and investigation.

Ehsan was captured by Pakistani authorities in April. The government has reportedly been questioning him about TTP.

The Provincial Court issued its verdict following a petition filed by a resident of Peshawar who lost his son in the 2014 Army Public School massacre that claimed more than 130 lives, mostly children.

TTP claimed responsibility for the attack. Ehsan was the group’s spokesman at the time.

Who is Ehsan?

Liaqat Ali, commonly known as Ehsanullah Ehsan, hails from the Mohmand Agency of the northwestern tribal region of Pakistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan.

Ehsan reportedly joined TTP during college in 2008, where his role was to be the group’s mouthpiece for the Mohmand Agency. He subsequently became TTP’s main spokesman.

When a faction of TTP parted ways with the terrorist organization and established Jammat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) in 2014, Ehsan became that newly created group’s spokesman.

Jammat-ul-Ahrar has claimed responsibility for numerous deadly terrorist attacks in Pakistan, including a suicide bombing in Lahore Park during Easter last year that killed at least 70 people, the majority of them Christians.

JuA also claimed responsibility for a series of deadly bombings across Pakistan earlier this year. 

The United States placed Jammat-ul-Ahrar on a list of specially designated global terrorist organizations last year.

Blame game

In April 2017, Pakistan’s military announced the capture of Ehsan.

At the time, the military declared the arrest of Ehsan — who was allegedly operating out of the northwestern tribal region — to be a major success in the country’s counterterrorism efforts.

In a confession recorded on video and released shortly after his arrest, Ehsan is heard revealing that Tehreek-e-Taliban and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar have connections with Afghan and Indian spy agencies.

Ehsan accused Afghanistan and India of supporting TTP and JuA in their terrorist attacks on Pakistani soil. 

Both Kabul and New Delhi denied Ehsan’s allegations and accused Islamabad of orchestrating Ehsan’s confession in an effort to shift the blame of militancy to Afghanistan and India. 

A senior Afghan security official told Reuters in April that Ehsan’s comments are just a planned distraction by Pakistan, which is accused of providing safe havens to the Afghan Taliban on its soil. 

“Pakistan has always been pushing this narrative of being a victim of terrorism, while the fact is it sponsors and supports terrorist activities in Afghanistan and India,” the Afghan security official said.

“Now, Pakistan is under enormous pressure from the international community to crack down on extremists, and it is trying to evade responsibility by playing victim once again,” he added.

This story was originally posted on VOA News (Extremism Watch Desk).

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