Pakistan admitted that a high profile Taliban figure who justified the 2012 attack on teenage Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai has escaped detention, days after the militant announced his breakout on social media.
Former Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, who claimed responsibility on behalf of his group for scores of Taliban attacks, proclaimed his escape on Twitter and then in an audio message sent to Pakistani media earlier this month.
The Pakistani military, which had kept Mr Ehsan in detention for three years, has declined to comment but Interior Minister Ijaz Shah, said: “That is correct, that is correct.”
Mr Shah, a retired brigadier general, added that “you will hear good news” in response to questions about whether there had been progress in hunting down the escaped Pakistani Taliban spokesman.
Mr Ehsan later told a Reuters reporter by telephone that he had already left Pakistan and arrived in Turkey together with his wife and children. He said he had surrendered to the army under a deal, and escaped only after the agreement was not honoured.
Mr Ehsan said he escaped on January 11 but did not clarify how he had broken out of a maximum-security military prison and made his way to another country.
Pakistani analysts and experts on militant have voiced doubt about Mr Ehsan’s claim to have escaped.
They have speculated that he may have been converted into an asset by the state and that reports he was on the run could be a ruse to plant him back in the Islamist militant scene for use as an informant.
After Mr Ehsan’s surrender in 2017, Geo News TV aired an interview he gave in custody in which he asserted that the intelligence services of Pakistan’s arch-rival, India, had been funding and arming Pakistani Taliban fighters.
The Pakistan army pledged to put Mr Ehsan on trial but has not done so.
Taliban attacks in Pakistan have declined in recent months since the army carried out several operations against sanctuaries used by the militant groups in lawless districts along the border with Afghanistan.