PESHAWAR -- Parents of nearly 150 children who died in the Taliban attack on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar in December 2014 are seeking a military trial for Liaquat Ali, alias Ehnanullah Ehsan, former spokesman for Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Ehsan recently surrendered to Pakistani security forces and is in custody.
In a scathing confessional released April 26, Ehsan expressed disgust with militant commanders who distort Islam and propagandise youth into slaughtering the innocent and destabilising Pakistan.
"The so-called 'jihadists' have misled people in the name of Islam, especially the youngsters," he said, adding that crimes such as "bombing public places and attacking schools and universities" traduce Islamic teachings.
Nonetheless, grieving parents want justice.
Seeking justice in military court
Fazal Khan, whose son Sahibzada Umar Khan, an eighth-grader, was killed in the APS carnage, petitioned the Peshawar High Court May 9, asking it to direct the government to put Ehsan on trial in a military court.
"We have heard that he was receiving clemency," Khan told Pakistan Forward of an unconfirmed report that he had heard. "Pardoning the killer of 148 people will enrage the families of APS martyrs."
Ehsan was spokesperson of the TTP, which triumphantly claimed responsibility for the massacre the very next day, Khan said. Therefore, the army should try him for terrorism, argued Khan.
The Pakistani government in January 2015 established military courts to pave the way for speedy trials of terrorism suspects.
"We are hopeful that justice will prevail and terrorists who were responsible for the massacre will be severely punished," he said. "The government must take the APS culprits to task."
Swift justice for the perpetrators of the attack would ease some of the trauma that parents and other relatives of the APS victims still suffer, said Khan, adding, "There is no logic in offering amnesty to the killers of innocent children."
An 'unpardonable' crime
Ali Rehman, whose younger son Muhammad Rehman was killed in the attack, fully supports a military trial for Ehsan. Muhammad was 11.
"Ehsanullah should be tried and punished to send a positive message to the bereaved families," he told Pakistan Forward. "It is the government's duty to provide us justice."
"We will never forgive the assassins because their crime was unpardonable," he said, adding that giving clemency to a TTP stalwart would send the wrong message to those who expect the government to mete out justice.
Shandana Bibi, whose son was also among the victims, yearns for exemplary punishment for the culprits behind the bloodbath.
"My son Jawad Afridi, a sixth-grader, was a peace-loving child, and I cannot forget the day when he was lowered into the grave," she told Pakistan Forward, adding that Jawad's brother and sister are still in shock.
"We will get some satisfaction if Ehsan is punished," she said. "If he goes unpunished, the families of the deceased students will be greatly disappointed."
"I appeal to the government to take notice of the parents' miseries and to send Ehsan's case to the military for a fair trial," she said.
A clear case against Ehsan
Khadim Hussain, a columnist for Dawn, backs parents' demand for a fast-tracked military trial of the former Taliban leader.
"The parents who have lost their children in the APS attack are justified in their demand," he told Pakistan Forward.
Not only the parents but the public wants the government to spare no time in sending arrested Taliban leaders' cases to military courts, he said, adding, "The people believe in military courts."
"The record of military courts has been very encouraging, as those who were involved in killing civilians and security personnel have been punished," he said.
"Ehsan's case brooks no argument," said Hussain. "He used to claim responsibility [for the TTP] after every attack."
Terrorists cannot 'force people into submission'
The government enacted the military courts to ensure that violent extremists face a speedy trial instead of being able to exploit the much slower civilian courts, said Peshawar advocate Shah Nawaz Khan.
The military courts have punished several dozen terrorists, giving satisfaction to those who lost relatives, friends or property to terrorist acts, he said.
"[Ehsan's] case is fit for military courts because the accused has confessed to all TTP attacks in the past," he told Pakistan Forward.
Suhail Khan, a Peshawar civil servant whose son Ajmal was killed in the APS attack, said his family was extremely happy over Ehsan's arrest and now awaits his trial.
"It would be a great service to the affected families if he received capital punishment," he told Pakistan Forward.
"We have been condemning the Taliban for a long time and will do the same in the future," Khan said. "It is a misconception that terrorists can force the people into submission."