Is the Haqqani Network really capable of what the high US command in its recent statements have accused it of?
Is the group in question really capable of what the high US command in its recent statements have accused it of?
To understand the role of Haqqanis in the overall Taliban movement across the landlocked Afghanistan, it will be instructive to look at the history of the network and its areas of operation.
Belonging to the dominant Zadran tribe of the Pakhtuns in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani was a cleric-cum tribal chieftain. Haqqani was affiliated with Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan but in the 1970s when the group split into two factions’ respectively led by Maulvi Yunas Khalis and Engineer Gulbaddin Hikmatyar’ Maulvi Jalaluddin stayed with the former.
not Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, who never travelled to the US or met President Reagan
In the 1990s when Afghanistan plunged into civil war and all former Mujahideen were fighting for the control of Kabul, Maulvi Jalaluddin guided his fighters to capture Khost province from the communist regime of Dr Najibullah in 1991.
Later when the Taliban came into power, he joined the students’ militia and was appointed the governor of Khost province and later as minister of tribal affairs and frontiers. He served as the commander-in-chief of the Taliban armed forces till they were ousted from power in the aftermath of the US attack post 9/11.
A 33-year old Sirajuddin Haqqani, also known as Khaleefa among his fighters, is the second son of Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani and is currently leading the network. Siraj was nominated as the operational commander of the network when Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani later sidelined himself from the ground offensive.
An active member of the Mulla Omar-led shura or council, Siraj is considered a fearless commander who used the influence of his ailing father not only to reactivate the Taliban Tehrik which was reeling after the US invasions but also its top leadership which had been underground, he soon made his network a force to reckon with.
The emergence of Haqqani network also paved way for the re-activation of other groups that became inactive after the fall of Taliban, earlier. In two recent exclusive interviews with me, Sirajuddin proudly recalled how he dared and risked his and his family’s lives for reorganising the Taliban fighters to wage a ‘jihad’ against the invading forces in Afghanistan. In his view, when he started, none of the senior Taliban leaders were even willing to be called Taliban anymore as the United States, through false media propaganda, had created the impression of its power and intelligence.
The Taliban were initially a shattered and dispirited group, in shock and awe of American powers and Sirajuddin called those days ‘the harsh days of his life’.
‘After developing secret contacts with some of our old friends about jihad, we required resources, which we were lacking. I had to sell jewellery of our women for buying weapons and other material for launching jihad and that was the beginning of our journey’ the Taliban commander recalled.
They wanted us to leave the Taliban-led Islamic Emirate and play a role in the Afghan setup. They offered us very, very important positions but we rejected and told them they would not succeed in their nefarious designs of breaking the Taliban. We would support whatever solution our shura members suggest for the future of Afghanistan. The Afghan government sent several jirgas of Afghan ulema and elders wanting us to separately negotiate with them but we refused and advised them to approach our shura headed by Mulla Mohammad Omar’ the Taliban commander explained.
He started off with over a dozen fighters only from Khost province in Afghanistan, bordering Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region. But now the number of his fighters is said to have exceeded 10,000 operating in the four provinces of Khost, Paktia, Paktika and Logar and sometimes in the capital Kabul.
‘The Taliban are now more resourceful than in the past. We have acquired the modern technology that we were lacking previously. We have mastered new and innovative methods of making bombs and explosives’ Sirajuddin had said during his last interview with this writer.
Maulvi Jalaluddin had two wives, one of them an Arab from the UAE, from whom he had two sons. His Arab wife lives in the UAE along with her two sons. It is said to be this Arab connection that enabled the senior Haqqani to develop contacts with the rich Arab Sheikhs and financed his armed struggle in Afghanistan.
The Haqqani family is said to have given enormous sacrifices, more than other Mujahideen leaders, first against the Soviets and later against the US-led NATO forces.
Two of his sons ‘a 17-year old Omar Haqqani and Mohammad Haqqani, 22′ have already been killed. Omar was killed in a firefight with US-led forces at Satto Kandao in Khost in 2008 while Mohammad was killed in a drone attack at Miramshah, North Waziristan, in 2009.
In 2009, the United States announced $5 million head-money on Sirajuddin Haqqani and later announced reward for his two other brothers’ Naseeruddin Haqqani and Badruddin Haqqani.
After the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, Maulvi Jalaluddin had predicted that Afghanistan would prove to be a graveyard for US and its allies. The United States has blamed the Haqqani network for some of the most spectacular attacks on the US and NATO installations in Afghanistan, including the latest attack on US embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul that killed five Afghan police and eleven civilians.
Unlike the past, the Haqqani network did not take responsibility for the latest attacks in Kabul, apparently due to restrictions by the Taliban-led Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan barring all militant groups from interacting with media and claiming responsibility for certain actions on the battle-field.
Similarly, the Haqqani network has also been blamed for an assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai and suicide attack on Indian embassy in Kabul and reportedly helped a Jordanian national, Dr Human Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi attack the CIA camp in Khost and killed seven CIA agents in 2010.
Some analysts familiar with the latest developments in Afghanistan think the western media has negatively projected the Haqqani network and its operations. Former Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Rustam Shah Mohmand is not convinced that only the Haqqani network has created hardships for the foreign forces in Afghanistan.
He said the Haqqani network has been operating only in three provinces such as Khost, Paktika and Paktika having control over 65-70 per cent of the area, while the US and NATO forces suffered losses other than these provinces, meaning that there are other effective Taliban groups besides the Haqqani network.
The former envoy opined that the Taliban would never be able to defeat the US in Afghanistan, even if all the militant groups get united and utilised all their energies. But they can make their stay difficult by their guerrilla attacks. He said the US has made several attempts to divide the Taliban by engaging the Haqqani network in peace negotiation, but it did not work, due to reluctance of the Haqqanis to sit with the Americans.