Haqqanis have free run in Pakistan, says top US commander John Nicholson in Kabul

The top US commander said that he was increasingly seeing a “convergence between the Haqqanis, the Taliban, the Al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Taiba” in Afghanistan.

Written by Jyoti Malhotra | Kabul | Updated: October 24, 2016 1:05 pm
General John Nicholson. (Source: AP) General John Nicholson. (Source: AP)

THE HAQQANI network, a UN-designated terrorist group which has killed Indian diplomats, military officials and civilians in Afghanistan in recent years, continues to enjoy sanctuary in Pakistan and operates freely from there, the top US commander in Afghanistan John Nicholson has said.



In an interview with The Indian Express in Kabul, Nicholson said, “We see, on the one hand, a stated aspiration for reconciliation (on the part of the Pakistan government, by bringing the Taliban to the table for peace talks). While on the other, the Haqqanis still enjoy sanctuary and can operate freely from inside Pakistan and this continues to be a concern.”

Nicholson’s comments are significant, especially in the wake of the Guardian newspaper recently claiming that senior Taliban officials, including Abdul Manan Akhund, a brother of former Taliban chief Mullah Omar, twice met the Afghan intelligence chief Mohammed Masoom Stanekzai in Doha in September.

Notably, a US official was reportedly present in the secret talks, but more importantly, there were no Pakistanis at all. A Taliban source in Kabul, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said this development “perhaps signaled an unusual, if growing disillusionment between the Taliban and their sponsors in Pakistan.”

Nicholson, who commands a US-led coalition of about 13,000 troops from several countries in Afghanistan, said he would give the Pakistani government and the army “great credit” for mounting an operation against terrorists and other insurgents, called ‘Zarb-e-Azb’, in the borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

One consequence of this operation was that several terrorists, including the Pakistani Taliban, were forced to migrate to Afghanistan, thereby allowing the Afghan security forces to target them.

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“But we haven’t seen that with the Haqqanis. They were not forced over (into Afghanistan by the Pakistani operation).The Haqqanis continue to conduct operations from inside Pakistan, against Afghans and the US-led coalition,” Nicholson said.

The top US commander said that he was increasingly seeing a “convergence between the Haqqanis, the Taliban, the Al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Taiba” in Afghanistan. Meaning, terror groups targetting both Indians and Americans were increasingly using Afghanistan as a base to carry out their attacks.

That is why in 2015 the US Congress passed a law which mandated the US Department of Defence to certify that the
Pakistanis “were doing enough against the Haqqanis” in order to release aid.

“I recommended to Secretary Carter (US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter) that there was not enough pressure being put on the Haqqanis, by Pakistan, on their sanctuaries in Pakistan.We are very concerned about the Haqqanis,” Nicholson said.

Led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is also a deputy to the new Taliban chief Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Haqqani network is said to have close links with Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI.

It was said to have masterminded the attack against the Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008 in which the Indian defence attaché, a diplomat and 56 other people lost their lives, a suicide bombing at the Park Residence hotel in 2009 in which nine Indians were killed, besides an assassination attempt against former Afghan president Hamid Karzai in 2008.

So, as the international community celebrates 15 years of the liberation of Afghanistan from the Taliban, the situation in this country located at the crossroads of Asia is both grim and hopeful, fragile and upbeat.

The capital, Kabul, as well as major cities like Herat close to the border with Iran, are packed with traffic during the day. Other towns like Kunduz in the north have fallen to the Taliban, for the second time in two years, while Lashkar Gah, the capital of opium-rich Helmand province in the south, is said to be teetering towards an insurgent takeover.

Nicholson believes the Afghan government controls about 68 per cent of the population and 62 per cent of the country’s 398 districts (in 34 provinces), while “the enemy” controls 10 per cent of the population as well as districts. “The balance is in play,” he said, pointing out that despite a concerted effort by the Taliban to capture a major city, it has not succeeded.

“As many as 20 of 98 UN and US-designated terrorist organisations stay in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region,” said Nicholson, pointing to the fragile nature of the peace that exists. These include the Haqqanis Network and the LeT, which also target Indians, the Taliban, the Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda in the Sub-continent (AQIS) which target the US, the ETIM which include Uighurs from China, as well as the Tariq Gidar Group (TGG) which massacred 148 children in a Peshawar school in 2014.

He pointed out that the killing, by US forces in May, of Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a drone strike inside Pakistan, was a signal that the US would continue to target elements hostile to the Afghan peace and reconciliation process.

“The US carried out the strike in which Mullah Mansour was killed. In fact, in the last seven months we have killed
the emirs of various terror organisations, including the TTG,” Nicholson said. Mansour was targetted because the US
expected him to join the quadrilateral peace talks in Doha — the Pakistanis had promised as much.

“The Pakistanis told us they would deliver Mansour to the peace process,” he said. But when the Taliban rejected the peace talks and issued a declaration of war against Afghanistan, President Obama gave us the orders to strike,” Nicholson said.

As for Kunduz in the north, from where thousands of civilians are leaving because of door-to-door gunfighting over the last couple of weeks, Nicholson insisted that unlike last year, the Taliban only control parts of the city.

Meanwhile, no one has claimed responsibility for the blasts against the beautiful Shia Karte-e-Sakhi shrine in Kabul — as well as in the northern Balkh province on Ashura on October 11 — although this reporter saw how the city simply shut down as soon as news of the blast came in, mostly by word of mouth.

Unconfirmed reports also say that Vice-President Rashid Dostum, a major Uzbek leader, was targetted in a bomb
attack in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif last week, but that he escaped.

Certainly, parts of the US establishment like the Pentagon, want India to play a larger role in stabilising Afghanistan — even if other parts, like Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan-Pakistan Richard Olson, continues to hold out for a special place for Pakistan.

Interestingly, Nicholson was profuse in his appreciation not only of Indian initiatives like the Salma dam in western Afghanistan which promises to irrigate 70,000 hectares, but of the gift of four attack helicopters and the offer to train Afghan security forces in India.

As the US presidential election becomes increasingly polarised, the realisation that America’s “longest war” has already cost it more than a trillion dollars and hundreds of lives is pushing the Americans to push regional powers like India, Iran and China to play a larger role in stabilising the region. Clearly, General John Nicholson is adding his voice to that effort.

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  1. M
    Oct 24, 2016 at 1:09 am
    Terrorists has got extra lease of life with Chinese backing of stan in international forum.
    1. M
      Oct 24, 2016 at 3:30 am
      stan is counting on Chinese handouts. More it can "show" its "Performance" more it is likely to get Chinese handouts. But the problem is China itself is in strife with GDP/Debt ratio as 1/2.5. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Only way out for China (and stan) is to exploit Balochistan and give some "freebies" to Pak Army Genrals to cheer them up!
      1. M
        Oct 24, 2016 at 3:25 am
        Terrorists are otherwise normal human turning into viruses! It should be treated as just another outbreak of disease in its new virus form.
        1. R
          Oct 24, 2016 at 2:09 am
          I think sanctions are the way to go with stan. There should be some cost imposed. It is almost Somalia - and since North Korea is nuclear, economic sanctions against stan suggests that its nukes will be safe anyways. There should be a long term plan to secure these nukes (like exercises and actual plans that can be executed) - however, stanis have to be sanctioned. A real threat of sanctions will control its state actors from empowering these non-state ones.
          1. R
            Oct 24, 2016 at 2:10 am
            Nigerian economy gt; stani economy. It is almost there.
            1. B
              Oct 24, 2016 at 12:42 am
              Please tell the General, either they support India or support stan. Cannot ride two horses at the same time.
              1. P
                Oct 24, 2016 at 4:24 am
                When will the US realise that the s are a proxy for the Chinese. The Chinese by using stan have beaten the Americans ,Russians and Indians to establish a superiority in the region. Unless the Americans are able to pay the Chinese back in the same coin this betrayal by s will go on.
                1. S
                  Oct 24, 2016 at 3:27 am
                  High time, porkistan should be bombed to clean up the entire nation. W nation is a virus! It needs bomb medicine!!
                  1. J
                    Oct 24, 2016 at 1:18 am
                    M A D H R C H O D WHAT ABOUT Y O U R S U K A R L U N D FA GS OF RSS
                    1. R
                      Oct 24, 2016 at 5:02 am
                      Not only Haqani but also LET, Jaish, Hizbul Mujahideen and several other organisations have free run in stan.
                      1. L
                        l s
                        Oct 24, 2016 at 5:41 am
                        What did the US expect from terrorists states like stan. Allying with terror country for their own short minded reasons and funding them knowing fully well that all funds will be used to attack India. At least now the US should realise and put the s in a sealed cage, for they are exporting terrorists. Now, because of the fundings, US feels safe, but after a certain period, the s will ask their state terrorists to trouble and hurt US. Then only the eyes of the Americans will open. Playing with fire will one burn these Americans. The US should stop preaching frequently. Public is fed up of their preaching.
                        1. M
                          Oct 24, 2016 at 5:27 am
                          stan is adding killing machines to the world . India has to add peaceniks to the world. It is the sacred duty of the land of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. India should actively join USA and Afghanistan in defeating the cruel, barbarians like Haqani network and stan ISI. Indians should be ready for sacrifice for the safety of future generations.
                          1. P
                            Oct 24, 2016 at 2:41 am
                            And the US indirectly funded these terror groups by giving aid to papistan
                            1. R
                              Oct 24, 2016 at 9:48 am
                              US and China have common atudes - materialistic approach. They see only business but time will teach them lesson to follow India when terror attacks mount on them.
                              1. D
                                Oct 24, 2016 at 1:02 am
                                The peace key to Afghanistan is through stan. The US does not understand stan's duplicity or is duplicitous towards India. The US can easily bring stan to its knees even if it puts half the effort it put on Iran. In the long run US will regret by pushing away India and stan in tight China grip. Besides the European minions the US has no major friends.
                                1. S
                                  Shafted mohammed
                                  Oct 24, 2016 at 4:03 am
                                  All the terrorists operating in stani and Indian Kashmir as well as in Afghanistan are stani stooges trained by them. Mullah Omar and all Taliban leadership and Osama , zawahari , Dawood , and hafiz and lakhvi were all protected and breeded by stani army. This is clear state sponsored terrorism. What is worrying is they have huge nuclear program and they are blackmailing the world on that. This problem is more severe than any other country and they gave the nuclear technology to all rogue state and it is high time the w world deals with them simultaneously and destroy all their nuclear material.
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