Ehsanullah TV

Published in Dawn

Even for the convicted and condemned, it was a pathetic picture: Saulat Mirza, formerly of the MQM, confessing just hours before he was scheduled to be executed. Mirza said he’d been used like tissue paper, and that others learn from his example. It seemed a far cry from the ’90s Saulat: the man who had jeered “it’s just a formality” when the trial judge sentenced him to death.

Now slumped over in Machh Jail, Mirza only wished that party workers “open [their] eyes”. Call it a hit man’s humanity: having murdered KESC MD Shahid Hamid and so many others, Saulat Mirza was making one last bid for peace. Two months later, he was hanged.

The whole thing wasn’t just wildly unreal — the last supper of a contract killer, beamed right into our living rooms. It was also without point: a confession without a magistrate has no legal value. Nor was it a revelation: Saulat was rehashing what he’d already told a joint investigation team years ago.

So why do it? For one, the state was selling a story. It was implicating Altaf Hussain, a man out of their reach for decades. And it was bent on exposing the Foreign Hand, with Saulat again admitting to RAW links.

Two years later, the state’s selling the same story: Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesman of a group that has engaged in mass murder, confessing his sins before the camera. Information that the public was already pretty clear on was reheated and re-served: RAW, NDS, a bunch of thugs out of their depth.

If the purpose was to bring the Pakistani Taliban low — as a crew of cutthroats — it doesn’t seem to be working. From the video, remorse never met Ehsanullah Ehsan. And whereas Saulat Mirza was burning through 100 cigarettes a day, Ehsanullah sits in a safe house, fat and friendly as ever. Forget similar sentencing; there’s no discussion of any criminal proceeding, civilian or military.

And that’s not a little galling. After APS Peshawar, the state handed us a bitter pill: civil liberties can take a walk, this is do or die. That meant military courts in 2015, military courts again in 2017, no moratoriums on hangings, no consular access for Kulbhushan, and the Army Act for gangsters like Uzair Baloch.

Against this backdrop, we now get to see ‘jet-black’ Ehsanullah laundered white. Having to watch this man on television, a messenger of reform, is among the worst humiliations we’ve had to endure. More was to follow, until Pemra yanked a private channel’s subsequent interview off-air.

Perhaps the only upside is that we’re reminded, once again, that evil is banal. ‘Ehsanullah Ehsan’ is a fake name. It’s as fake as Shahidullah Shahid, Fazlullah, Hakeemullah, and the Khorasanis. As one commenter put it in the New York Review of Books, “Crusader history, poetic reference, sentimentalism, and horror animate and sustain such movements.” And that’s hard to do when you’re a bunch of losers with names like Liaquat Ali and Fazal Tariq, the latter operating a heathen chairlift over Swat River.

But make no mistake, this man corroded the soul of this country. On behalf of the TTP (and later, Jamaatul Ahrar), Ehsan­ullah claimed the shooting of Malala You­safzai, the massacre of tourists in Gilgit-Baltistan, the suicide bombing at Wagah Border, the murder of Shuja Khanzada, and the attack in Gulshan-e-Iqbal in Lahore last spring.

Is he a treasure trove of information? Probably. Should he be squeezed for every ounce of intel that might save lives in the future? Without a doubt. Does his utility outweigh the public’s pain in the short run? Perhaps.

But that utility comes with a time stamp, and diminishes by the day. Ehsanullah was most effective the moment he was picked up. Singing like a canary over RAW and NDS allows the establishment to plop a cherry on top of the Foreign Hand cake: he was on the run, he ‘turned himself in’, now he’s telling us what we’ve been telling the world all along.

Congratulations, but it won’t bring back Shuja Khanzada; it won’t bring back eight members of the same family that were lost to Wagah; it won’t bring back the children murdered in Gulshan-i-Iqbal. Once he’s given up all his friends and facilitators, Ehsanullah Ehsan will be nothing but a blood-splattered resumй.

And that’s when we need to understand that a certain kind of killer does not merit immunity. He doesn’t even merit airtime. Only now we require the parents of slain APS children to remind us of that fact: Aurangzeb Khan saying, “Please don’t show him on TV. It kills us.”

Ehsanullah Ehsan’s group took pleasure in killing Pakistanis, often via acts of savage violence. Over the next few days, he will transition from intelligence asset to moral liability; this country’s biggest. For the sake of all we’ve lost, he cannot go unpunished.

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