What Is The Haqqani Network?
- It refers to some 15,000 fighters who owe allegiance to Jalaluddin Haqqani, currently based in North Waziristan
- Jalaluddin is now more patriarch; the real power lies with son Sirajuddin
- Jalaluddin’s nephew Sangeen Zadran and son Badruddin coordinate attacks
- His son from his Arab wife, Nasiruddin, is the principal fundraiser
- Jalaluddin lost son Mohammed in ’09 in a drone attack; two wives, sister, sister-in-law, 8 grandchildren the year before.
Back in 2001, when Osama bin Laden’s men shook the United States out of its complacency with their brazen terror attack on September 11, then US president George W. Bush had vowed to a nervous nation that he would “smoke out” the terrorists from their mountain hideouts. To the rest of the world, he had bristled: “You’re either with us or against us.” It has taken America ten long years to discover a third, rather ambiguous, position other than Bush’s either/or scenario, best illustrated by Pakistan’s ability to enact at once the contradictory roles of enemy and ally in the war against terror.
This harsh truth bored into the Americans as they seemingly stumbled upon evidence linking the September 13 attack on their embassy in Kabul to the Haqqani network, which is based in North Waziristan in Pakistan, and against which Washington has long been urging Islamabad to undertake direct military action. Diplomatic niceties were set aside as chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff Admiral Mike Mullen publicly declared the Haqqani network to be a “veritable arm” of the ISI. An angry US defence secretary Leon Panetta too weighed in, saying his country was entitled to defend its troops from attacks of militants belonging to the Haqqani network, including by undertaking operations inside Pakistan. Defence analyst Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, however, told Outlook, “There is no disclosure about Washington sharing concrete evidence with Islamabad regarding any ISI-Haqqani network collusion in the Kabul attack. But clearly, there seems to be a consensus in Washington about ratcheting up the pressure on Pakistan to make it fight the Haqqani network.”
It isn’t as if the Americans have discovered the Haqqani network overnight, post-September 13. In the past, the Haqqanis—veterans of the anti-Soviet jehad—have been accused of deadly attacks on international forces in Afghanistan, including the 2008 assassination attempt on Afghan president Hamid Karzai, the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul the same year and the Kandahar jailbreak earlier this year. America counts the Haqqani network as the most sophisticated militant force capable of unravelling its plan of stabilising Afghanistan before their planned 2014 pullout.
In contrast to America’s perception, the Pakistani establishment considers the Haqqani network a strategic asset. Their relationship is several decades old, and also mutually beneficial. Unlike the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Haqqanis have no grouse against Islamabad; their goal, instead, is to have a stake in the future dispensation of Kabul, once the Americans depart. Considering the 15,000 fighters the Haqqanis are said to have under their control, either their weakening or cooperation is a prerequisite to a peace settlement in Afghanistan. A weakened Haqqani network would, however, also mean Pakistan forfeiting its leverage in Kabul. With India on the east, Pakistan believes it can’t countenance a hostile regime in the west. This is why the September 25 meeting of the Pakistani corps commanders, presided over by army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, categorically ruled out a military offensive against the Haqqanis. The generals say that yet another operation in Pakistan, that too under America’s pressure, would alienate the Pakistanis.
Who are the Haqqanis? Why is Pakistan protective of them and America bitterly opposed to them? The story of the Haqqani network is entwined with the story of wars and coups and armed foreign interventions in Afghanistan. The network’s founder, Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, was initially a member of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami, which in the 1970s was waging a battle against Afghan president Sardar Daud, who had launched a crackdown on Islamists said to have been influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Hizb, however, soon witnessed a split, with a faction under Maulvi Yunis Khalis breaking away from Hekmatyar. Jalaluddin emerged as one of the more important commanders of the Khalis faction.
In 1979, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Jalaluddin shifted his family and fighters from his home province of Khost to North Waziristan, from where he launched deadly sallies against the Russians in Afghanistan. Through the 1980s, Jalaluddin worked in tandem with the CIA, which treated him as a commander of formidable power and repute, even worthy of an invitation to meet then president Ronald Reagan in the White House. This is why Pakistani foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar wasn’t wrong in describing the Haqqani network as the CIA’s “blue-eyed boy” in the past.
Jalaluddin didn’t disappoint the CIA, becoming the first resistance leader to capture a city—Khost—from the Soviet-backed Najibullah government in 1991. He was appointed the justice minister in the first mujahideen government in 1992, but switched his allegiance to the Taliban as they threatened Kabul. The Taliban and Jalaluddin shared a common friend in the ISI. As a Taliban commander in 1996-97, he was accused of killing Tajiks. The shift in allegiance won him a post in the Taliban council of ministers, and he was the governor of Paktia province at the time the Americans invaded Afghanistan in 2001. As the American juggernaut swept through Afghanistan, and Khost came under increasing pressure, Jalaluddin was back in North Waziristan, from where he directed his network of fighters to destabilise the eastern part of Afghanistan—Paktia, Paktika, Khost, Ghazni Wardak—through a series of deadly attacks on the Americans. The network’s rising curve in the badlands of Afghanistan can be gauged from the attacks it has been accused of masterminding even in Kabul.
The Haqqanis’ opposition to the Americans hasn’t been without a price. Jalaluddin lost son Mohammed in 2009 in an American drone strike in North Waziristan. A year before, another drone strike claimed two of his wives, his sister, sister-in-law and eight grandchildren.
Now in his late 60s, Jalaluddin is more a patriarch than a commander. The network’s operational strategy is now vested with his elder son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who doesn’t carry a gun, refuses to move in a motorcade, and refrains from wearing a turban lest he is identified and targeted by drone attacks. But from his safehouses and mountain hideouts, he has orchestrated some of the more brazen attacks on American troops in recent months, eclipsing even his father in influence and power. He is on the American list of “kill or capture”, as the WikiLeaks documents show, and carries a reward money of $5 million on his head.
His success has prompted the Taliban to claim the Haqqani network as its own. In response to America’s recent accusations against the network, a Taliban spokesman issued a statement on Sep 27 saying, “Jalaluddin Haqqani is part of the Taliban movement, being one of its dignified and honourable personalities. He isn’t leading a separate militant group and still takes his orders from the Taliban shura.”
Such a claim is debatable, and the Haqqani network is best regarded as an independent outfit owing a nominal allegiance to the Taliban. The network’s leadership remains within the family, as Sirajuddin masterminds attacks, and his cousin Mullah Sangeen Zadran coordinates attacks with Badruddin, yet another Haqqani scion. Jalaluddin’s son through his Arab wife, Nasiruddin, is the group’s principal fundraiser. His lineage is said to be a crucial factor in the group’s ability to raise finances in the Gulf, enabling it to maintain a large contingent of fighters. Asked in a recent interview to a wire agency whether he had 10,000 fighters under his command, Sirajuddin laughed and said, “That figure is actually less than the actual number.”
Most analysts believe Sirajuddin consented to the rare interview in order to ease the American pressure on the ISI for harbouring the Haqqani network. He insisted to the wire agency, “The Haqqani group no longer has sanctuaries in Pakistan.... Gone are the days when we were hiding in the mountains along the Pak-Afghan border. Now we consider ourselves more secure in Afghanistan besides the Afghan people.” He also warned the US against attacking North Waziristan, threatening to inflict greater losses on Americans than what they have encountered in Afghanistan. About the recent attacks in Kabul, he said, “For some reasons, I would not like to claim that fighters of our group had carried out the attack on the US embassy and nato headquarters. Our central leadership, particularly senior members of the shura, suggested I should keep quiet in future if the US and its allies suffer in future.”
Sirajuddin said he had turned down several requests for talks with the Karzai government and the US, though he expressed his willingness to come to the negotiating table should the Taliban too participate in peace parleys. “They offered us very, very important positions,” he said, “but we rejected (them) and told them they would not succeed in their nefarious designs. They wanted to divide us and any further efforts to do so will also fail.” This is an attempt to ensure the Americans don’t play one militant group against another to their own advantage.
Despite its loose allegiance to the Taliban, it is the Haqqani network that’s likely to determine the kind of Afghanistan the Americans will leave behind. This was obvious to late Pakistan journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad even in 2004. As he then wrote, “Jalaluddin Haqqani is the only real hope for the Taliban resistance movement to be successful against US-led forces in Afghanistan. Of all the Afghan commanders who led the resistance movement against the Soviets, Haqqani still remains a hero.” His stature—and now that of his sons—has only grown seven years later.