- Associated Press - Thursday, April 27, 2017

ISLAMABAD (AP) - The Pakistani Taliban say the country’s top intelligence service is using a captured senior militant to spread propaganda that the militant group is beholden to spy agencies in India and Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s army released a video late Wednesday showing Ahsanullah Ahsan, a longtime media spokesman for the Taliban and another extremist group, saying he surrendered to Pakistani forces after he saw militant leaders receiving aid from the two neighboring countries.

It was unclear if the confessional video released by the army was made under duress.

Mohammad Khurasani, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, denied the claims, saying Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence was using a “prisoner” for propaganda against the group.

Pakistan has long accused neighboring Afghanistan and India of covertly aiding Islamic extremists, who have carried out scores of attacks in recent years. Afghanistan says Pakistan turns a blind eye to the Afghan Taliban, while India says Pakistan backs militants fighting in the disputed Kashmir region. Both India and Afghanistan deny supporting militant groups.

Pakistani authorities announced that Ahsan was in custody earlier this month. Foreign Ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria said Thursday that Ahsan had surrendered and voluntarily revealed information about the extremists’ foreign links.

Pakistan’s Geo TV is the only media outlet to have been granted access to Ahsan, and ran promos of an exclusive interview that was to air Thursday. But Pakistan’s media regulator banned the airing, saying parts of the interview glorify terrorism and that it would be disturbing for those who have lost loved ones in attacks.

Ahsan, whose real name is Liaquat Ali, is from the Mohmand tribal region bordering Afghanistan. He was the public face of the Pakistani Taliban for several years, and claimed a number of high-profile attacks on their behalf, including the near-fatal shooting in 2012 of Malala Yousafzai, a young activist for women’s education.

He quit the Taliban in 2014 and joined Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a hard-line group that has also carried out several attacks targeting security forces and civilians.

In the confessional video, Ahsan said militant leaders turned to Afghanistan and India for support after Pakistan launched a major military offensive in 2014 in North Waziristan, a tribal region along the border with Afghanistan and a longtime haven for al-Qaida and other militants.

The fighting there is still underway nearly three years later.

Two Pakistani officials said an overnight U.S. drone strike - the first since 2014 - had killed seven militants in the North Waziristan village of Zuwai. The security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters, said no high-profile militants were killed.

Pakistan’s military meanwhile said it killed several militants in overnight strikes after they tried to sneak into the country in the northwest, without providing further details. Independent media have had virtually no access to North Waziristan since 2014.


Associated Press writers Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan, Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, and Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan contributed to this report.

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