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Pakistani Lawmakers Question Government’s Taliban Overtures

FILE: Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan (L) and one of the group's leaders Adnan Rasheed during a press conference in 2013.
FILE: Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan (L) and one of the group's leaders Adnan Rasheed during a press conference in 2013.

Member of the Pakistani Parliament’s upper house, the Senate, have criticized the government for showing a soft corner to some former members of hard-line Taliban factions banned in the country for terrorist attacks.

A Senate panel criticized the government for showcasing the surrender of a former Taliban spokesman as evidence of its longstanding claims that Indian and Afghan spy services were bankrolling the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its splinter groups. One lawmaker accused Islamabad of allowing former Taliban to reopen offices in several cities of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

Several senators posed tough questions during a meeting of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Interior and Narcotics this week.

Tahir Hussain Mashhadi represents southern Sindh Province. He lambasted authorities for allowing Ehsanullah Ehsan, a former spokesman of the TTP faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, to be interviewed by Pakistani TV channels since his surrender to authorities in April.

“Don’t turn him into a hero by glorifying him. He is a self-confessed criminal and should be prosecuted under the due process of law,” he said. “He is among those who played football with the severed heads of our soldiers and now he is being presented on media channels smiling away.”

Former interior minister and the committee’s chairman, Rehman Malik, asked Islamabad to follow the law if it wanted to turn Ehsan into a key witness against his former TTP comrades.

“Liaquat Ali, alias Ehsanullah Ehsan, is not an innocent person but a hardcore terrorist,” Rehman noted. For years Ehsan claimed responsibility for scores of high-profile Taliban across Pakistan. He made frequent telephone calls to journalists and emailed them his video statements -- often threatening them with grave consequences if they failed to report his stories.

“His glorification is against the law. He had no symptoms of being ashamed [of his past acts] in his confessional statement,” Rehman said.

Maulana Saleh Shah represents Pakistan’s beleaguered South Waziristan region in the Senate. He alleged that the government was facilitating the return of some TTP factions to the cities of Tank, Dera Ismail Khan, and Bannu in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The three cities border the North and South Waziristan tribal districts, which served as the headquarters of the Pakistani Taliban between 2004 and 2014.

“Some of the surrendered groups, with the government’s facilitation, have established their offices and were providing ‘justice’ to the locals through their own judicial system,” he said, referring to the harsh Taliban punishments that marked their control.

Shah said Ehsan’s media appearances and allowing some Taliban members to open offices were part of Islamabad’s “unannounced policy of reintegration of militants.”

After the TTP claimed responsibility for massacring nearly 150 schoolchildren and teachers in the northwestern city of Peshawar in December 2014, Islamabad formulated a comprehensive counterterrorism plan. The National Action Plan established military courts for swift trials of suspected terrorists, banned all armed groups, and called for preventing them from operating under new names.

Faisal Lodhi, a senior Defense Ministry official, told the panel that authorities expected to glean more information from Ehsan because of his status as a TTP insider.

“The rule of law and the due process of law would be followed, and this case would not be disposed of instantly,” he said.

-- With reporting by Dawn, Nation, and Express Tribune.

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