We’re fighting ghosts | Pakistan Today

We’re fighting ghosts

Ehsanullah Ehsan’s statements bring looming spectres in to the light

Syed Saleem Shahzad in his book – Inside Al Qaeda and Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden & 9/11 – has alluded to certain characters as the principal actors in the epic tale of Arabian Nights. These characters appear insignificant in the beginning but with the passage of time they maintain their importance due to the manner of their improvised ghostly appearance. In different terror fables these protagonists shape and reshape the picture of their time through dedication, disposition and diligence to a particular cause and ideology.

The post 9/11 terror scenario is full of such ghostly characters and shadowy figures. These terrorists appear in electronic and print media with different names and identities in order to gain celebrated fame regionally and internationally. Many of these characters adopt an impressive nom de plume which rings bells of excitement in an individual’s mind and appeal positively to his or her religiosity. They intentionally choose an imposing title from Islamic history which is overwhelmingly Arab in character and Middle Eastern nature. The technique is simple since these names propel reverence among Muslim youth so that the ghost terrorists can enhance the recruitment base and increase chances of high numerical strength of foot soldiers among rank and file of a terror organisation. Most of these characters remain elusive and only give audio interviews or statements in the backdrop of any terror act(s). In rare instances they record their videos for the consumption of general public. The cagey character of these individuals is necessary because it garners maximum propaganda across the globe which attaches a ting of eeriness to them.

Mullah Muhammad Omar, who cultivated an enigmatic character despite a lack of proper education, was rarely documented in public. His impressive aura was utilised effectively by the Taliban top notch leadership in galvanising their members and in shaping the insurgency in Afghanistan. There was hardly any objection raised by Taliban field commanders on the instructions communicated to them through a selective process of information dissemination. Ayman al-Zawahiri, another character which is still believed to be roaming around in ghostly manner, posses serious challenges to new security advisors in the White House. The CT think tanks in America still believe that Zawahiri is hiding in one of Pakistan’s metropolitans. They assume that Karachi is the most likely place where Zawahiri can be found owing to its high population density, huge Pashtun concentration, difficult urban designing for precision strikes, inaccessibility issues due to haphazard urban sprawl and above all an explosive ethnic mix of different nationalities and cultures. It might be possible that the ghost of Zawahri is prowling in the streets of Karachi but then you need a ghost buster to catch and bring him back to life. The possibility that Ayman al-Zawahiri passed away a couple of years ago posits enigmatic equation to intelligence community? It might be possible that one of the intelligence officials of an organisation is privy to these details but he or she is keeping it to himself/herself waiting for the right moment to disclose it. It might be possible that Zawahri is living in a Middle Eastern country due to current state of regional turmoil. In other words, the probabilities are unlimited.

The confusion among intelligence agencies is always treated as manna. The precious nature of any information lies in its ambiguity and lack of clarity. The longer the incertitude prevails, the greater the resilience and compactness of the particular agency. Interestingly a ghost terrorist can also capitulate to disclose his true identity to narrate a tale of a different world; the world full of travel, troupe and tantalising adventures.

The arrest of Ehsanullah Ehsan and his subsequent confessional statements on electronic media raises important questions. According to him he surrendered voluntarily before Pakistan Army after realising that the path he was following was fraught with contradictions and wrong religious options. Ehsanullah Ehsan first surfaced on the national scene when he joined Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in 2008-09. Belonging to Mohmand Agency, he was an ordinary unknown soul till the time he decided to join hands with local Taliban. He was soon raised to the level of spokesperson of TTP and then as Umar Khalid Khurasani left the organisation over leadership dispute and formed a splinter group under the banner of Jamatul Ahrar, Ehsan too tagged along with him and became the mouthpiece of the splinter group. A number of terror operations were carried out which were later owned by Ehsan. It includes attack on foreign tourists in Gilgit- Baltistan, Wagha suicide attack, killing of Col Retd. Shujah Khanzada, ex-Home Minister Punjab, and Gulshan e Iqbal Park attack, to list the few.

Looming large on social media and projecting himself as larger than life character, Liaquat Ali aka Ehsanullah Ehsan appears to acclaim responsibility of nearly all terror related incidents especially those having international dimension. His journey, as a college student from Mohmand Agency to the senior echelons of TTP passes through different phases. He moved between the tribal areas and Afghanistan for gaining human and logistical support. Apart from it, he spent considerable time for securing safe heavens in Afghan neighbouring districts. The recent upsurge in terror attacks in Charsada and Mardan also owe their genesis to the proximity with the Agency. Many details disclosed by him are interesting particularly because they help us understand the complexity of terrorism and actors involved in aiding and abetting these acts.

However, it would seem that once he succumbed to his fears and ceded to the military he became an ordinary person, lacking his own will and lustre and confessing his guilt. It would appear, therefore, that the ghost of Mohmand Agency has finally returned home to atone for his less spectral, more tangible acts.