The Pakistani Military has announced that Sajjid Mohammed (more commonly known as Ehsanullah Ehsan), a leading figure in the Pakistani Taliban, has surrendered himself into their custody. Ehsan rose to prominence as the public face of the organization, through sophisticated media campaigns. In the aftermath of terrorist attacks, he would contact journalists via text messages and social media and claim responsibility on the Taliban’s behalf. Among the many attacks that Ehsan associated himself with was the 2012 shooting of Malala Yousafzai, who would later go on to become a global advocate for female education.
Ehsan’s capitulation was announced at a press briefing on Monday by Asif Ghafoor, a spokesperson for the Military. Ghafoor hailed the development, claiming ‘the people, the state and the institutions of Pakistan have made considerable progress in the betterment of the country’s security situation’. He added that progress had come so far ‘that the people who’ve been planning attacks on Pakistan’s soil from across the border have started to see that the situation has changed.’
Though it would be premature to celebrate the collapse of the Taliban in Pakistan, Ghafoor’s comments do tally with recent developments, as can be seen in the case of Ehsan. Until 2013, Ehsan was one of the most prominent figures in the Pakistani Taliban, also known as the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban). He was banished from the group, however, when he made critical comments about the Afghan branch of the Taliban. Ehsan then joined a hard-line splinter group, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. This latter organization has been responsible for some of the most serious violence in Pakistan over the past few years. On Easter Sunday last year, it carried out an attack in Lahore which killed over 70 people. This February, it was one of the groups responsible for a series of suicide bombings which left more than 130 people dead.
Yet, it is possible to find a silver lining in all of this because Jamaat-ul-Ahrar’s very existence is indicative of the weakened state of violent extremism in Pakistan. The group came about as the result of disagreements amongst the TTP over whether to engage with the Pakistani government in peace talks. As this demonstrates, peace talks, rather than armed responses, are the best way to deal with the Taliban. By extending the olive branch, the Pakistani government are in a ‘win-win’ situation. If the Taliban are willing to engage in talks, then their violent activities can be brought to an end. On the other hand, if there is disagreement over whether to agree to talks, then the TTP will be made weak through divisions. Instead of responding with violence of their own, the Pakistani authorities can ‘kill them with kindness’, so to speak, by letting their peace offer sow discord within the Taliban.
Nevertheless, Pakistan’s days of terrorist attacks are not entirely behind it, even if the power of the Taliban is waning. As they are pushed out of the Levant, ISIS are moving further east. Recently they have been making their presence felt in Pakistan, and have claimed responsibility for several atrocities, such as an attack on a shrine in February which left over 80 dead. The Pakistani authorities should, therefore, be careful and not let their guard down at this crucial time.
In the wake of the surrender of such a senior extremist though, they are tending to take a positive outlook. Ghafoor reflected that ‘if a person who is doing the wrong thing feels that they are on the wrong side and that they should come back towards good, then I don’t think there can be a bigger success of the state than this’. It is not just the Pakistani authorities who are pleased with these developments, either. Ehsan’s surrender was welcomed by some of his old victims. Hamid Mir, a journalist and talk-show host who was attacked by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar in 2014, has suggested that his capitulation ‘will have a demoralising effect on other militants’. Let’s hope, for his country’s sake, that this prediction turns out to be true.
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