Earlier this week, a friend of mine observed that Pakistan was now home to a unique category of person, namely the ‘patriotic terrorist’. How else could you describe Ehsanullah Ehsan, erstwhile spokesman for the murderous Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and current media sensation whose reported surrender has been followed by the release of a confession in which he links the TTP to hostile foreign agencies including India’s RAW and Afghanistan’s NDS, and in which he renounces the activities of the organization that he spent years defending and promoting. In what surely must be another global first, an avowed terrorist like Ehsanullah Ehsan, accused of being party some of the most heinous atrocities perpetrated by the TTP over the last decade, was allowed to give an interview to a private news channel, promos for which shamelessly splashed Ehsan’s smiling, relaxed face across television screens and newspaper pages across the country. It was only intervention by PEMRA that prevented the interview from being aired, although the stream of pronouncements attributed to Ehsan since his capture does not seem to have abated.

It is more than obvious that Ehsan is being deployed in an attempt by the military establishment to promote and reinforce the idea that India and other hostile foreign powers are actively involved in supporting militant groups that are opposed to Pakistan. This is not really news to any serious observers of the region’s unending geopolitical rivalries; other than the fact that the military and government in Pakistan have long championed this argument, most would agree that using proxies to destabilize or harm rivals is de rigueur in the world of realpolitik. All that some might add to these observations is the idea that, in addition to castigating India and others for fomenting unrest and instability in Pakistan, it might also make sense to look inwards and recognize that myriad ways in which we ourselves continue to act as our own worst enemies. After all, by endlessly tolerating, accommodating, and facilitating extremist organizations of every stripe, in the name of Islam and in the pursuit of their own strategic objectives, the powers-that-be in Pakistan have simply made it easier for foreign powers to subvert these actors towards their own ends. This is independent of the tremendous domestic cost Pakistan continues to pay for the indulgence it shows towards Islamic extremism; even if an argument were to be made in favour of using non-state actors as militant proxies in Kashmir and Afghanistan, decades of rampant sectarian violence, the targeting of minorities, and increasingly violent religious intolerance in society should demonstrate the folly of not acting against the purveyors of bigotry and the preachers of hate.

In this context, Ehsanullah Ehsan’s allegations against RAW and the NDS simply serve the unfortunate purpose of once again deflecting attention away from the role we continue to play as the architects of our misfortune by attributing all of our problems to nefarious foreign machinations. This logic, if followed to its logical conclusion, would simply suggest that if India, Afghanistan, and the other states allegedly involved in supporting terrorism in Pakistan would cease to do so, this would become a land of milk and honey, with all citizens living together in peace and harmony. That this is nothing more than a delusional fantasy should be self-evident; the fires of intolerance and violence have been stoked for too long in Pakistan, and the generations that have grown up under the shadow of Zia-ul-Haq are not lynching alleged blasphemers, murdering Ahmadis, and slaughtering Shias because India asked them to do so. Radical and urgent steps must be taken to address the indigenous roots of extremism in Pakistan – material and ideological – if the country is to have any hope of a more progressive and prosperous future.

Whatever the content of Ehsanullah Ehsan’s confessional statement, what is perhaps most galling about Ehsan’s sudden return to prominence is the complete and total absence of any discussion about his eventual fate. It is not at all clear why there has not been a single statement about trying Ehsan in a court of law or punishing him for the numerous crimes he has been associated with. Indeed, it boggles the mind that a man who reveled in proclaiming and justifying the barbaric crimes of the TTP, and who did not seem to be particularly disturbed by the constant killing of innocent men, women, and children, can be held and trotted out before the media without so much as an FIR being filed against him. Exactly what type of signal does this send? For years, the government and military establishment have been accused of having a soft spot for the so-called ‘good’ Taliban, those elements of the broader galaxy of militancy who are willing to cooperate with the state in the pursuit of its broader regional objectives. Is the case of Ehsanullah Ehsan simply going to reinforce this idea? Is the signal being sent here really one that suggests that all terrorists will be forgiven and perhaps even feted as long as they publicly embrace the state’s own narrative about militancy and security? Are we really expected to forget the crimes committed by this man simply because he happens to be against India? Do the powers-that-be imagine that we will believe a man whose conscience was undisturbed by the mass murder of thousands would suddenly be stricken by guilt upon discovering that his organization and its leaders had links with foreign powers? Are we expected to listen when this man, who justified all that was done by the TTP in the name of Islam, now claims that his former employers and comrades were ‘deceiving’ the youth because they worked for India?

No. A thousand times no. This man should stand trial, and he should be punished for his crimes in accordance with the law. He can say whatever the government wants or requires him to, and can be used for whatever purpose the government intends to use him. But what cannot be countenanced is the idea of this man not being held accountable for all that he is done. Failure to do so will simply be an insult to the memory of all those who have been killed by terrorism in Pakistan, as well as those who have died fighting it.