With the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) accepting responsibility for the heinous 2014 Army School Peshawar attack and its justification that “we targeted the school because the (Pakistan) Army targets our families (and) we want them to feel our pain,” there should have been no reason for anyone to doubt that this was the handiwork of depraved terrorists. Yet, right from the beginning, there’s always been a lurking suspicion in the minds of many that the Pakistan Army has been concealing something about this incident from the public.
The very thought of someone smelling a conspiracy in such a humungous tragedy is incensing. Yet, considering the irresponsible way in which the Pakistan Army has tackled this issue as well as its inexplicable actions, it’s but natural for apprehensions regarding some sort of foul play or cover up to crop up.
It all started when the then Director General (DG) of Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Asim Bajwa addressed a press conference after the APS (Army School Peshawar) attack and said, “We know who they (the perpetrators) are and who they were in contact with, but details cannot be shared due to operation reasons.” In anti-terrorism operations, there are times when even though known, the identity of attackers has to be kept secret for what the DGISPR rightly referred to as “operational reasons.” But in such cases the establishment intentionally feigns ignorance of the attackers’ identity in order to retain surprise and make terrorists complacent as this facilitates their successful neutralisation or apprehension.
But for DGISPR to boast about having identified both the attackers as well as their handlers and then citing “operational reasons” for not making their identity public, makes no sense at all. After all, the moment they came to know that the Pakistan Army had identified them, wouldn’t the perpetrators and masterminds of this carnage have taken enhanced security measures to evade being targeted? So, while the DGISPR’s announcement may have just been an attempt to showcase Pakistan Army’s exceptional intelligence abilities, but by not immediately revealing the identities of those responsible for this attack only raises suspicion of a possible ‘cover-up.’
Two days after the APS Peshawar attack, the TTP posted a video on their website in which a man identified from the accompanying caption as Umar Mansoor disclosed that he had masterminded this attack. The Pakistan Army however claimed that the real kingpin was Maulana Fazullah and that Mansoor had merely conveyed his instructions to Sadam Jan who in turn had actually planned the attack. Subsequently, the security forces managed to gun down Jan along with six “unidentified high value targets” in a “secret hideout” in Khyber Agency and killing the mastermind of the APS attack precisely ten days after the carnage was indeed a very big success for the Pakistan Army. But while the nation was busy celebrating the killing of Jan, rumours that he wasn’t the one who had planned the APS attack were also doing rounds.
What was being said was that the TTP operative Jan had been apprehended by security forces during an ‘intelligence-based operation’ shortly after the APS attack and he wasn’t the one who had masterminded the APS attack. But since the security establishment was facing flak for its failure to track down those responsible for the APS attack, the Pakistan Army came up with an ingenious plan: It portrayed Jan as mastermind of the APS massacre and then ‘neutralised’ him in an encounter to assuage public anger. To make the incident appear more convincing, the army also alleged that six other terrorists (who too were already in army custody) were also gunned down. But once again, it’s Pakistan Army’s penchant for oxymoron that raised suspicions on its claim– who has ever heard of “unidentified” but yet “high value targets”?
Shortly after the APS attack, Gen Pervez Musharraf and Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed accused India’s Intelligence agency R&AW of supporting the attackers. But no one took this allegation seriously since Islamabad didn’t endorse the same. After all, since Rawalpindi had already identified who the killers and their masterminds were, it must have surely shared this information with the government and that’s why Islamabad’s silence on Indian involvement in this attack negates the Musharraf-Saeed allegation. But while speaking at the UN four years later, Pak Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi alleged that the APS Peshawar attackers were “supported” by India. This unwarranted and unsubstantiated allegation once again gave the public an impression that Islamabad was trying to play down the TTP’s role in the APS massacre under pressure from the Pakistan Army!
Since terrorists are shorn of moral values, the news that former TTP and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan had undergone a change of heart and surrendered to the Pakistan Army came as a big surprise to many. He confirmed the TTP’s role in the APS attack and spoke about how anti-Pakistan terrorist groups in Afghanistan were enjoying Indian support. While what Ehsan said was music to Rawalpindi’s ears, but the public was baying for the blood of this man who had attempted to murder Malala Yousafzai and was member of TTP which had planned and executed the APS Peshawar attack. People expected that since almost all the students killed or injured were wards of service personnel, the army would bring Ehsan to justice with the speed and severity expected from a professional army.
But this was not to be and though it might sound unbelievable, but the fact is that even after nearly three years, the army didn’t even file a charge sheet against this self-confessed terrorist belonging to terrorist groups that were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Pakistanis. When one compares this with the case of alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadav who was arrested tried and sentenced to death in just 13 months, suspicion of something amiss in Ehsan’s case is but natural. Why was the Pakistan Army going so soft on Ehsan defies any logical answer!
In fact, the widespread distrust generated by partiality shown by Pakistan Army in Ehsan’s case was so intense that the kin of an APS attack victim even approached Peshawar High Court (PHC) with a request that the army should not be allowed to manipulate the system to enable his release. By admitting and taking cognisance of this plea and issuing a ruling debarring Ehsan’s release, PHC proved that it not only shared the complainant’s apprehension but also found merit in it.
However, since the army has the last word in Pakistan, Rawalpindi found a novel way of having the cake and eating it too by circumventing PHC’s ruling that prohibited Ehsan’s release from captivity– it simply allowed him to ‘escape’ from military custody! Since we haven’t heard of anyone being punished for dereliction of duty that resulted in Ehsan’s escape, there’s certainly much more than meets the eye and even though it may sound outrageous, the likelihood of a clandestine Pak Army-TTP nexus can’t be completely ruled out!