A recent article published in the New York Times by a British-Pakistani dual national leftist writer Mohammed Hanif who is known for his book The Case of Exploding Mangoes, has been the topic of discussion on Pakistani Twitter-sphere. The article was allegedly censored by the Pakistani affiliate of New York Times. Perhaps an explanation is needed by the paper.
Below is a photo of the self-censored paper:
While I have never endorsed media bans or censorship in the past nor I will in the future and I don’t know why Express Tribune censored it (they shouldn’t have), I personally took issue to the article because it is completely divorced from ground realities and a basic understanding of security and intelligence matters. So I decided to refute the whole absurd article, which can only get published in fake news NYT. Here it goes.
Pakistan has found a new ally in its never-ending war against India — and he is the public face of our most ruthless killers. For years Liaquat Ali, better known as Ehsanullah Ehsan, was a familiar and dreaded figure on national media. It seems that after every atrocity committed by the Pakistani Taliban, or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), he would make triumphant statements in audio messages or bloodcurdling videos, putting the fear of God in Pakistani media and causing revulsion among Pakistani people.
Pakistan has not “found a new ally” in the form of Ehsanullah Ehsan and it is unclear how exactly the author reached that conclusion but it is obvious that it involves some over-the-top crazy assumptions. No Pakistani leader, including the leaders of Pakistan’s Armed Forces and intelligence agencies, said that the state sees Ehsanullah Ehsan as an ally. There’s no evidence to back up this absurd assumption by the author. Ehsanullah Ehsan was and is a terrorist, period. That being said, where was the author when the bastion of liberal media Geo News used to take Ehsanullah Ehsan live on TV and which continued until Pakistani State officially banned all TV channels from taking Ehsanullah Ehsan or any other terrorist on TV? How many articles in NYT did Mr Hanif write on Geo News’ interest in Ehsanullah Ehsan and the fact that it was Geo News that scored a TV interview with Ehsanullah Ehsan after his surrender? Or is it necessary for the author to bash the state and its one particular institution while absolving everyone else of everything? Since the author himself is a propagandist and an active part of US deep state and India’s joint information war on Pakistan (read more here), he must also know that Ehsanullah Ehsan was also a propagandist just like him and just like the author, Ehsan was also paid for his services. Ehsanullah Ehsan’s affair with the Pakistani media was also not one-sided and the media itself, specially Geo News, went out of its way to generate ‘Breaking News’ and run Ehsan’s statements back to back. It was also the media and lefties like Mr Hanif who took Ehsanullah Ehsan’s statements when he was the spokesperson of a terrorist group at face value and never actually questioned them. Until he named India. But more on that later.
Soon after the TTP killed three employees of Express TV in January 2014, the television channel invited Ehsan on the air by phone. He very calmly explained the reasons for the murder, and the interviewer promised — respectfully, repeatedly — to give him more airtime, while begging for guarantees that there would be no further attacks.
The attack on Express TV staffers was unfortunate and condemned by Pakistanis from all backgrounds and at least two of the terrorists involved in the attack were killed in an encounter by Pakistani counter-terror police in the following days. No surprise that the author didn’t mention this crucial fact.
It is a known tactic of terrorists to attack and threaten the media in hopes that these tactics will help get them better coverage, so it doesn’t help when media owners willingly walk into that trap while essentially back-stabbing their low-level employees. Why has the author got nothing to say about media owners who care more about profits and ratings than their employees? Clearly they’re more harmful to the integrity of media and free expression than the terrorists.
Ehsan later claimed responsibility for an Easter Day attack in a park in Lahore last year, which killed dozens of people. He had previously claimed responsibility for an attack on a girl named Malala, who was shot in the head on her way to school, adding that the TPP would hunt her down if she survived.
The Easter Day attack in Lahore in 2016 that the author mentions was one of the most horrible attacks on innocent civilians by any terrorist group. The attack was claimed by Ehsanullah Ehsan who was working as a spokesperson of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar at that time. Yes, the same Afghanistan-based Jamaat-ul-Ahrar whose website is run from India and about which Pakistani intelligence agencies have repeatedly said that the group is supported by Indian intelligence agency R&AW and Afghan intelligence agency NDS. But it is understandable why Mr Hanif doesn’t care to mention any of that, because he will get fired from New York Times op-ed section before these crucial facts are ever published in fake news NYT.
What followed 2016s Easter Day attack in Lahore was a province-wide paramilitary operation ordered by Pakistani Army that resulted in the seizure of cache of weapons and explosives and also the initial arrests of 5000 Pakistanis, 200 of whom were kept in custody. This also doesn’t score a mention in Mr Hanif’s article. Moreover, Pakistani intelligence agencies the Military Intelligence and Inter-Services Intelligence foiled another terrorist attack targeting Christians on Easter Day this very year, which was lauded by Pakistani Christians as well as Vatican officials.
The author mentions another TTP attack: the reprehensible attack on Pakistan’s pride and now a Nobel Laureate Malala. What the author ‘forgets’ to mention is the fact that Pakistan arrested and sentenced the two terrorists involved in shooting Malala to life in prison. What the author forgets to mention is that it was Pakistani military, the army he passionately hates, that stepped in and provided Malala with all the necessary facilities: from her rescue in army choppers to her medical operation in an army hospital to helping with her eventual transportation to United Kingdom for advanced medical care. Unfortunately, none of these facts make it to Mr Hanif’s article. Moreover, Ehsanullah Ehsan didn’t shoot Malala but accepted the responsibility for the attack just like he accepted responsibility for every other attack by the group he was representing. That was his job as a spokesperson.
With his appearance, the Pakistani Army seemed to be sending this message: You can kill thousands of Pakistanis, but if you later testify that you hate India as much as we do, everything will be forgiven.
The author once again devolves into dangerous and precarious assumptions. Ehsanullah Ehsan’s “appearance” as he calls it was basically a 5 minute long video where he confesses to his crimes and gives details about the foreign financiers of the terrorist groups (TTP and JuA) he used to be a spokesperson of. This was an extremely important development because Pakistani military and intelligence professionals have long accused India of using proxies and Afghan soil against Pakistan and which has also been acknowledged by US officials, such as Obama-era Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. I have written more on that here and here.
The line “You can kill thousands of Pakistanis, but if you later testify that you hate India as much as we do, everything will be forgiven” is a figment of the author’s wildly childish imagination as no state institution including Pakistani military has even remotely hinted at that. Ehsanullah Ehsan will not be forgiven by Pakistani military or any other institution and I say that with responsibility. But hang on, isn’t this the same Mohammed Hanif who penned another article in fake news New York Times earlier this year in January in which he railed against Pakistan’s anti-terror military courts that have played a pivotal role in minimizing terrorism in Pakistan? Lefties like Mohammed Hanif are a hindrance for the state in its fight against terrorism because they agitate no matter what the state does.
There was some pushback. State media regulators banned a detailed interview with Ehsan before it aired after families of Taliban victims expressed outrage. The parents of students slain at the Army Public School in Peshawar in 2014, where Taliban attackers butchered more than 140 people, mostly students, wanted Ehsan hanged in front of the school.
Pakistani media regulator PEMRA banned Ehsanullah Ehsan’s interview on the request of Pakistani PM Nawaz who in turn received the request from Indian business tycoon Sajjan Jindal during his secret meeting with PM Nawaz in Murree because Indians knew he was going to give earth-shattering details about India-sponsored terrorism in Pakistan. This information comes from highly credible sources and I would stand by it in any case but it is understandable why a contributor to fake news NYT like Mr Hanif doesn’t have this information.
The anger of the families of the victims of APS massacre was exploited by the very same people who, like Mr Hanif, rail against Pakistan’s anti-terror military courts. It makes no sense why the same people who want mercy for terrorists who have facilitated or are directly involved in heinous attacks want a propagandist like Ehsanullah Ehsan hanged immediately. Unless one realizes that immediate hanging of Ehsanullah Ehsan without any statements or video would have been a dream come true for India. Who would have been the ideal person to educate Pakistanis about the Indian sponsored terrorism in Pakistan if not Ehsanullah Ehsan, the public face of Pakistani Taliban? The anger of APS massacre families is understandable but those people are seeing things through the prism of emotions, which again is completely understandable, but that doesn’t make them right when it comes to how Ehsanullah Ehsan should be handled by the state. Emotions, sadly but rightly, have no place in state decisions taken for state interests. Similarly, the demand to hang Ehsanullah Ehsan in front of Army Public School is understandable but illogical since it serves no purpose other than satisfying the human urge for revenge while also radicalizing our children who would have to witness a public hanging after going through a massacre. The only thing that is surprising yet amusing is that the public hanging advocacy is coming from lefties, who were vehemently against hangings of terrorists ordered by military courts just a few weeks back.
But the army has preferred to parade him and his winning smile in front of TV cameras, and to release footage of him telling salacious stories about how his Taliban colleagues had three wives or how the current TTP leader took away his teacher’s daughter by force. The purpose seems to be to suggest that the Taliban are not a formidable force with an ideology and deep roots in Pakistani society, but rather a bunch of sexual perverts bankrolled by India. India, forever our existential enemy.
This isn’t the first time a video confessional statement of a terrorist has been made public by Pakistani State. Previously Pakistan had made public the confessional video statements of Indian spy terrorist Kulbhushan Yadhav (who was also smiling and laughing throughout the video), senior Taliban leader Latif ullah Mehsud (who was also smiling), wannabe-ISIS Pakistani girl Naureen Laghari and MQM’s assassin Saulat Mirza, just to name a few. The smiling part isn’t edited out from the videos so that conspiracy theorists couldn’t say the confession was obtained under torture or stress. But it appears the author here is more outraged about why Pakistani military made public any kind of video confessional statement of Ehsanullah Ehsan pointing towards Indian and Afghan agencies as main backers of terrorism in Pakistan, than anything else. How dare Ehsanullah Ehsan expose his former terrorist brothers in TTP/JuA for what they are, the author seems to be wailing. The author further implies that Ehsanullah Ehsan may be reading from a script, which is what a conspiracy theorist would say. These video confessional statements are approved by Pakistan’s intelligence community and evidence exists to support almost all the claims made in these confessional videos. Perhaps the author should talk to relevant authorities before forming his own conclusions from his wild imagination.
Ehsanullah Ehsan’s confessional statement also did not absolve religion’s role in the terrorist activities of TTP/JuA. Ehsan clearly says in his statement, and later in his interview which was banned, that TTP/JuA employed rigorous religious brainwashing of lower level terrorists who were supposed to carry out or facilitate field operations. As Ehsan explained, this religious brainwashing was not only carried out in their own camps and madrassas but also on social media in an effort to recruit volunteers online. Pakistani military itself has made public the role of religion and mass brainwashing operations when it paraded local and international media in the Taliban compounds and brainwashing centers following Pakistan’s military operation in North Waziristan. This can also be cross-checked with claims from Afghan intelligence agency NDS that says some Afghan Taliban bombers were trained and brainwashed in Pakistan’s North Waziristan before Pakistan’s grand military operation.
Why is the author incapable of recognizing India as Pakistan’s enemy when Indian leaders, including Indian NSA Ajit Doval, openly talk about using terrorism and proxies as a strategic tool against Pakistan?
There is, it’s true, evidence that India has funded groups to strike at Pakistan for interfering in Kashmir. But do we really need to enlist our children’s killers in our campaign against India?
How does the author know for sure that India has funded groups to strike at Pakistan for interfering in Kashmir? Because as I have previously written in my articles, India’s proxy war on Pakistan goes way beyond than countering Pakistan on Kashmir issue. India’s proxy war on Pakistan is a small part of its grand hybrid war on Pakistan, in which US is at best silent and at worst complicit partner of India. The objectives of India’s hybrid war on Pakistan go well beyond Kashmir and include sabotaging CPEC, breaking away mineral-rich Baluchistan from Pakistan and designating Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, for starters. But obviously the author is either uneducated on security matters or is intentionally agenda-driven.
Which one is it?
The author also implies that Pakistan is leading some sort of campaign against India, when only the opposite is true. It is India that is leading a campaign against Pakistan. The simple fact that the current Indian PM Modi won election on the promise of “teaching Pakistan a lesson” while the current Pakistani PM Nawaz got elected after campaigning on the slogan of “India-Pakistan friendship” is enough to tell any idiot on the block who is leading a campaign against who. Clearly the author is not that idiot.
For once, the author is right as he notes that Pakistani society is divided; but it is divided over not only what the Taliban represent but also on how to tackle Islamist extremism. This division is not entirely unique to Pakistan and exists in some form in almost every country that has faced Jihadist terrorism, including United Kingdom and United States. Indeed, there are religious extremists in Pakistan who sympathize with Taliban and/or their cause(s). Here it is important to make the distinction between Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban, which obviously the author conveniently doesn’t make. There are two major aspects to this: a religious aspect and a geopolitical one. Both Taliban groups are vastly different from each other in both these aspects. While Pakistani Taliban kill civilians indiscriminately and mount attacks on schoolchildren and also shot Malala, Afghan Taliban don’t attack children and instead call on their members to plant more trees, collect utility bills and even offer security to protect development projects in Afghanistan. To even hint that Afghan Taliban are same as Pakistani Taliban of today or of 2008 highlights the ignorance of the author and his inability to understand the topic he has decided to write about. The author also fails to mention the pivotal role of United States in the backing of Afghan Taliban during the Afghan Jihad against Soviets, when the CIA was still pro-Jihad.
But when they wage the same brave fight in Pakistan, we recoil.
The Taliban were supposed to be our assets in our historic feud with India. When India and Pakistan were on the verge of another war in 2008, the Taliban leaders of the day vowed to fight alongside Pakistan’s soldiers.
Once again, the author either deliberately or ignorantly fails to draw a distinction between Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban. While Pakistani Taliban have mounted attacks against the Pakistani State, Afghan Taliban have never attacked Pakistani State or its interests in Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, was formed in December 2007 after several Pakistani Sunni militant groups based in FATA merged together mainly in opposition to the pro-America policies of the then President of Pakistan Mr Pervez Musharraf as well as to implement Sharia law across Pakistan. It was at this point that their religious extremism blinded them to the interests of Pakistan and they started mounting attacks against the Pakistani State. On Pakistan’s part, the situation was handled poorly and Pakistani Taliban were further pushed against the wall. Pakistani state did not see the Pakistani Taliban as just assets against India but back in 2008 when TTP was newly formed and there was still room for negotiations, the Pakistani Taliban leaders hoped to send a message to Pakistani State that they were willing to fight against India in case of war between India and Pakistan. On Taliban’s part, this message was meant to woo the Pakistani State as well as the public. But it didn’t hit the target and the message they got from Pakistani State in return was that they won’t be allowed to undermine Pakistan’s interests or implement an extremist form of religion, no matter what.
“If they dare to attack Pakistan, then, God willing, we will share happiness and grief with all Pakistanis,” said Maulvi Omar, the Pakistani Taliban’s spokesman then. “We will put the animosity and fighting with the Pakistani army behind us, and the Taliban will defend their frontiers, their boundaries, their country with their weapons.”
The offer to fight against India is not an offer that was only made by Pakistani Taliban in 2008. Similar offers have been made by some other non-Taliban militias too, like Baluch tribal leaders and their militias recently said they will fight against India alongside Pakistan. Pakistani Taliban are also Pakistani citizens at the end of the day and their offer from 2008 to fight against India in case of India-Pak war should surprise no one as it was a desperate attempt by a militant group fighting the state to curry some favor from the same state. Did Pakistan use them to fight against India? No, it did not. That is what’s important, and that is what the author either deliberately or ignorantly fails to mention.
Today, while the nation is still trying to decide if yesterday’s monster can be today’s patriot, the Pakistani Army has already made it clear that it wants to have the last word on the subject.
Again, no one I know or heard of except the author has implied that Ehsanullah Ehsan or Pakistani Taliban who surrender are suddenly patriots. No, they’re not. But should the state discourage militants from surrendering? Should war and drone strikes be the only way to tackle militancy? If there are a bunch of militants who want to surrender, what should the state tell them? How is pushing back against militants who want to surrender and want to have another chance at life good for the state or anyone else for that matter? The surrendering militants are no patriots and they should and will face some sort of punishment before being sent through a long deradicalization program before the state can even think about releasing them back into public. And even after that, those who show 100% normal behavior would likely be kept under surveillance after their initial release for a long period of time. In any case, these decisions are not solely Pakistan Army’s decisions but in fact involve the input of counter-terror and security experts as well as intelligence professionals from Pakistan’s various intelligence agencies.
The leading English daily Dawn reported last year that the civilian and military leaderships were divided over what to do with Pakistani anti-India militant groups, which are often accused of waging attacks in India. The army declared that the story was a national security breach, and demanded stern action against both the people who had leaked information about those disagreements and the people who had dared to write about them. A high-powered investigation was set up to look into what has come to be known as the Dawn Leaks.
Is it surprising that the author, while writing in fake news NYT which I have already said is part of the information war on Pakistan, mentions one of the biggest media influence operations in not just Pakistan’s history but in the overall history of foreign-backed influence operations? I have written about how Dawn Leaks was a classic media influence operation and the overall target of which was Pakistan’s national security and Pakistani military in particular.
Last week, after reviewing the results, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered the removal of two of his close aides and referred a journalist to a newspapers’ representative body. The army spokesman tweeted: “Notification is rejected.” The army won’t abide any discussion with civilians over who is a good or bad militant, or a good or bad Pakistani.
First of all, Pakistani PM has since denied that he ordered the release of the notification. Secondly, the military had already conveyed its stance to the civilian government all the way back in 2016 when General Raheel Sharif was still the Army Chief. This is a unique case since according to the assessment of Pakistan’s intelligence community the people believed to be involved in planting the fake news story in Dawn are part of the civilian government setup. Naturally, the intelligence community will have the last say in this matter since they’re the ones with the expertise and the tools to gather necessary evidence. Anyone who has trouble understanding this should read up on why Trump’s pick for National Security Adviser Mike Flynn had to resign after a strong case was built up by the US intelligence community against him which involved charges of working for foreign interests and receiving foreign payments. No American asked the question why is the intelligence community having the final say on Mike Flynn. No American called it a conspiracy against democracy. Sadly, Pakistan’s civilian leaders are not as democratic as Mike Flynn and cannot be expected to resign unless someone forcefully removes them.
Many Pakistanis still love the army. And many politicians fear it. They look to it to remove their rivals, accusing one another of being security threats, if not outright traitors. Many political parties are asking for Mr. Sharif’s head for daring to have a closed-door discussion about what might be wrong with the army’s idea of good and bad.
Most Pakistanis still love their military and their intelligence community and the only politicians who fear the military are the corrupt, compromised politicians who take orders from the establishments of the countries where they keep their assets, and none of those countries are named Pakistan. Hijacking of political parties and political leaders is an old hybrid warfare tactic which we have seen both Americans and Russians employ around the world in the near and far past. But not all politicians can be compromised and there are still some leaders in Pakistan who make Pakistan’s national security and its interests a vital part of their political rhetoric and campaigning. I wonder what the author has to say about Democratic Party leaders in US who claim that Trump is Putin’s man in United States and that Russia intervened in US election and helped Trump win? Who are they trying to make happy? CIA? Pentagon?
The “close-door discussion” the author mentions here is the Sajjan Jindal-PM Nawaz close-door secret meeting in Murree which I have already mentioned above. For some weird reason, the author doesn’t see any problem with an elected PM secretly meeting an Indian business tycoon who is known to have deep links with Indian intelligence agency R&AW at a time when India-Pakistan tensions were high, following Pakistan’s sentencing of Indian spy terrorist Kulbhushan Yadhav and video confessional statement of Ehsanullah Ehsan. Although the Americans not only called for Mike Flynn’s head but also got Mike Flynn’s head for having a phone conversation with the Russian ambassador. I wonder if Pakistan is more democratic than America? Or is the author simply ignorant? Take your pick. Moreover, Pakistani military never publicly said anything about the Jindal-Sharif meeting but most Pakistani political parties and leaders saw it as problematic and a cold-blooded murder of all democratic norms in broad daylight, and rightly so.
Most countries have an army, but in Pakistan it’s the army that has a country, goes the saying. If the politicians want to take the country back, they’ll have to stop calling one another traitor just to please the army.
“Most countries have an army, but in Pakistan it’s the army that has a country, goes the saying” – This same thing can be argued for United States of America, that has waged more wars and foreign interventions in last 100 years than all the countries of the world combined. Will it be okay to say that “most countries have an army but in the United States of America the military-industrial-intelligence complex has a country”? I would love to know.
If the politicians want to take the country back, they’ll have to stop calling one another traitor just to please the army. – Yes, the word traitor has become quite meaningless and its value and impact should be restored by getting rid of a few actual traitors, but why does the author think that Pakistani politicians must take the country back from the military? Why does the author appear to be endorsing the Indian narrative that the civilians (not just the civilian government) and the military are not on the same page or have clashing interests? Pakistani military is Pakistan’s national army and it has the support of all civilians. That being said, Pakistan has several political parties and no one party can claim to represent all civilians. Moreover, state interests, and national security in particular, are above any political leader/party and partisan politics. It is the same way in every democracy and Pakistan is not unique in this case. Pakistani civilians don’t need to take back the country from the army; Pakistani civilians need to take back the country from people like Mr Mohammed Hanif who further foreign interests in Pakistan, endorse Indian propaganda and misguide young liberals who’re seeking the right direction for themselves and for their country.
Since the author is a British-Pakistani, perhaps he would know about another British-Pakistani whose example can be quoted in the discussion about Ehsanullah Ehsan. His name is Maajid Nawaz. Maajid was born in Essex to a British-Pakistani family. He once used to be a member of Hizb ut Tahrir, an Islamist pro-Jihad organization against which Pakistan (amusingly enough) has acted more forcefully than the United Kingdom. His elder brother went on to become the UK leader of Hizb ut Tahrir. Maajid became a leading personality in UK Hizb branch and was extensively involved in Hizb’s propaganda as well as recruitment drive domestically as well as abroad. Maajid was arrested in 2001 by the Egyptian police and remained in an Egyptian jail until 2006. He was adopted as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International and later brought back to London, soon after which he resigned from Hizb and started educating British Muslims about the dangers of Islamic extremism. In his counter-extremism drive, Maajid was supported and encouraged by Britons as well as think tanks, security organizations and even government institutions. So far, Maajid has played quite a leading role in shaping the counter-extremism debate in UK. Just like Ehsanullah Ehsan, Maajid Nawaz also didn’t carry out any attack himself even though many other Hizb members have been involved in terrorism across the globe. Just like Maajid Nawaz is doing some incredibly important work for counter-extremism in Britain, Ehsanullah Ehsan can be Pakistan’s Maajid Nawaz who can go on to educate Pakistanis about the dangers of Islamist extremism and India’s proxy war on Pakistan. There could be no one better to do that job than Ehsanullah Ehsan and that should be his ultimate punishment, in my own opinion of course.
Originally posted on Security Analysis Blog, cross-posted here with author permission.