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Militants under fire before Afghan Peace Deal

Over a fortnight, three key Pakistani militants-based operating from Afghanistan have been killed whilst another group with Pakistani roots have been targeted in a deadly raid by special Afghan forces involved in counter-terrorism operations. The crackdown as a prelude to the negotiations for a truce deal between United States and Afghan Taliban officials meant to pave way to end the 18-year long war.

One militant source informed BBC he believed the assassination of top militants was a result of a secret deal between American and Pakistani forces as Pakistan using its leverage over the group has reportedly played a key role to bring the Taliban to the dialogue table.

Shehryar Mehsud was the lately targeted militant belonging to a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban. He was assassinated in the eastern province of Kunar when a bomb detonated close to his home. Mehsud’s rivals have denied the involvement in his killing while members of his faction believe that their leader was killed by Pakistani Intelligence services.

The Pakistani Taliban and Afghan Taliban maintain as two separate organizations and carry out attacks on their respective lands. Various groups of Pakistani Talibans and their breakaway factions have established a strong presence in the eastern Afghanistan to escape from the military operations carried by Pakistani state.

It is widely believed that Afghan intelligence have developed and foster ties with some of the groups to counter Pakistani support of Afghan Talibans who have a hold on large swathes of land in Afghanistan and are pushing for ouster of Western and US-backed Afghan national government. However, both forces have denied the accusations leveled against it by the other.

Earlier this month two senior Pakistani Taliban leaders were killed in Kabul. There were also reports pertaining to a raid on Hizbul Ahrar Pakistani militant group by Afghan forces in eastern province of Nangarhar. Members of the group were left startled saying they were unfairly treated as they have not got involved in attacks on the Afghan territory.

The escape of Ehsanullah Ehsan who was previously served as the spokesperson of TTP and Jamat ul Ahrar: JuA from the custody of Pakistan’s intelligence services has also made the situation more complex for Taliban.

Ehsan, known for some of the deadliest attacks carried out by the group including the shooting of Malala Yousafzai, surrendered to Pakistani security forces in 2017 but was never trialed for his offences.

In an audio message that surfaced on social media last week, Ehsan whose real name is Liaqat Ali recorded:

“I had surrendered myself to Pakistan’s secret agencies on February 5, 2017, after an agreement,” he said, adding that though he had abided by the agreement for three years, “Pakistani institutions” had imprisoned him and his children “against the spirit of the agreement”.

He continued: “We tolerated the hardships of imprisonment calmly for three years but eventually we were forced to make a plan to escape from there.”

Ehsan further claimed that he had escaped from custody on January 11, 2020, adding that he will “make clear” his future strategy after deciding it “soon”.

He later contacted reporters only to tell them that he has reached Turkey but was not willing to share any details about his escape or a video proof about his whereabouts. Many in Pakistan believe that the ex-TTP spokesperson couldn’t have escaped and was rather released as part of a shadowy arrangement or under table deal. Pakistani government and military have so far maintained their silence on the escape of the high-profile escape.

After the latest crackdowns on militants and release of the key Taliban figure, it seems the regional security scene could be changing in the coming days at least.