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Monday, September 27, 2021

Explained: Who are the Haqqani Network, the most powerful group in Taliban government?

The Haqqani Network takes its name from the leader of the group, Jalaluddin Haqqani, who first fought the Soviet Army in Afghanistan as a loyal ally of the CIA and the ISI, and then fought the US and NATO forces

Written by Nirupama Subramanian , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai |
Updated: September 14, 2021 12:36:19 pm
haqqani network, khalil haqqani, jalaluddin haqqani, sirajuddin haqqani, taliban, taliban government, afghanistan government, what is haqqani network, indian expressKhalil Haqqani at the Pul-e Kheshti mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021. Haqqani will be the acting minister for refugees of the Taliban’s caretaker government. (Jim Huylebroek/The New York Times)

The Haqqani Network has emerged as the most powerful group in the new Taliban government, with four of the clan nominated as cabinet members.

The Haqqani Network takes its name from the leader of the group, Jalaluddin Haqqani, who first fought the Soviet Army in Afghanistan as a loyal ally of the CIA and the ISI, and then fought the US and NATO forces, while he led a protected existence in North Waziristan, where Pakistan gave him and the entire group safe haven.

Jalauddin’s death was announced as having occurred of natural causes in September 2018, although it was rumoured that he had died years before. The mantle passed to his son Sirajuddin.

Haqqani Network in Afghan cabinet

SIRAJUDDIN HAQQANI, 48, is the new Interior Minister — an appointment that is a finger in the eye of the international community. He has been a UN-designated global terrorist since 2007, and the FBI has a reward of $ 10 million for information leading to his arrest. No recent photographs exist of him.

According to a 2010 report on the Haqqani Network by US-based think tank Institute for the Study of War, Sirajuddin’s mother is an Arab woman who was the second wife of Jalaluddin Haqqani. She is said to be living in a Gulf country.

The UN listing of Sirajuddin says he “participated in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing, or perpetrating of acts or activities by, in conjunction with, under the name of, on behalf or in support of Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Jaish-i-Mohammed.

haqqani network, khalil haqqani, jalaluddin haqqani, sirajuddin haqqani, taliban, taliban government, afghanistan government, what is haqqani network, indian express The Government of Taliban

It describes him as “one of the most prominent, influential, charismatic and experienced leaders within the Haqqani Network… and has been one of the major operational commanders of the network since 2004. After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Sirajuddin Haqqani took control of the Haqqani Network and has since then led the group into the forefront of insurgent activities in Afghanistan”.

According to the listing, he derived much of his power and authority from his father, Jalaluddin Haqqani — who was also listed, and described as “a go-between for al-Qaeda and the Taliban on both sides of the Afghanistan/Pakistan border”. Sirajuddin Haqqani was involved in the suicide bombing attack against a Police Academy bus in Kabul on June 18, 2007, which killed 35 police officers.

KHALIL-UR-REHMAN HAQQANI, the uncle of Sirajuddin, who has been appointed the Minister for Refugees, was listed as a terrorist in 2011. The listing says he travelled to Gulf countries, as well as in South and South-east Asia to raise funds on behalf of the Taliban and the Haqqani Network.

He is said to have been one of several people responsible for the detention of prisoners captured by the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. The listing links him to al-Qaeda as well.

NAJIBULLAH HAQQANI, Minister for Communication, was listed in 2001. He had been a minister in the previous Taliban regime as well — first the deputy minister for public works, and later, deputy minister for finance. He was militarily active until 2010.

SHEIKH ABDUL BAQI HAQQANI, an associate of Jalaluddin Haqqani and the new Minister for Higher Education, is the only leader of the Haqqani Network in the government who not designated by the UN Security Council. However, he has been sanctioned by the European Union.

On being appointed the shadow minister for education last month, he was reported as saying that while girls could study, “All educational activities will take place according to Shariah.”

Haqqani Network’s deep roots in Af-Pak

Jalaluddin Haqqani, a Zadran tribesman from the Loya Paktia (Paktia, Paktika and Khost) area in eastern Afghanistan close to the border with Pakistan, was a member of the anti-communist, anti-Soviet Hizb-e-Islami, and became active as a mujahideen in the 1970s.

He is an alumnus of the Dar-ul-ulum Madrassa, also nown as the jihad factory, in Akhora Khattak in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

As the frontier of the Cold War came to Pakistan’s doors, he and several others were trained in Pakistan for jihad. When the Soviet Army arrived, he was among the CIA’s trusted mujahideen. Charlie Wilson, the US Senator who mustered money and weapons for the war, is said to have described him as “goodness personified”. During this time he forged deep ties with the ISI.

From a base in North Waziristan, Jalaluddin ran guns and fighters for the jihad all through the 1980s. This is also the time when he met Osama bin Laden in Miramshah, the headquarters town of North Waziristan. While he received largesse from the CIA and ISI, Haqqani is said to have also raised his own funds from wealthy sheikhs in Gulf countries, and during his annual Haj pilgrimage.

Haqqani joined hands with the Taliban in 1995, and he and his men fought alongside the Islamist movement against the various warring factions of the mujahideen.

When the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, he became the Minister of Border and Tribal Affairs. The relationship between him and Mullah Omar was one of common interests, but it was hardly smooth, with Haqqani resentful of the prominence Mullah Omar gave to his inner circle from Kandahar.

haqqani network, khalil haqqani, jalaluddin haqqani, sirajuddin haqqani, taliban, taliban government, afghanistan government, what is haqqani network, indian express Taliban government: The leaders in the cabinet

Haqqani Network post-2001

After the ouster of the Taliban regime by the US and allied forces in 2001, the Haqqani family fled to Pakistan, where they are believed to have taken refuge in their old stronghold of Miramshah in North Waziristan.

They were said to be running a parallel administration there, taxing people and making money off construction contracts and investments in real estate in the area. Another source of income was from fund-raising in the Gulf. Kidnapping for ransom was a major source of income, as was smuggling timber from Afghanistan into Pakistan.

In 2003, when the Taliban began regrouping, the Haqqani clan was central to their efforts. By then, Sirajuddin had taken over most of the operational aspects of the Haqqani Network from his father Jalaluddin.

Military observers credit much of the success of the Taliban to the Haqqani Network. The United States often urged Pakistan to “do more” to eliminate the Haqqani Network, but these efforts remained cosmetic.

The Institute for the Study of War report mentioned earlier says the Pakistani Army consistently refused to launch a military operation in North Waziristan despite the presence of the al-Qaeda’s senior leadership there.

Even while reporting directly to the Taliban Supreme Council, the Haqqani Network retained its own distinct identity.

Operational capacity; al-Qaeda, ISIS connections

As recently as May this year, a UN report described the Haqqani Network as “Taliban’s most combat-ready forces [with] a highly skilled core of members who specialize in complex attacks and provide technical skills, such as improvised explosive device and rocket construction….The Haqqani Network remains a hub for outreach and cooperation with regional foreign terrorist groups and is the primary liaison between the Taliban and Al-Qaida”.

The report, by the Taliban Sanctions Monitoring Committee, also noted that one member state had pointed to a link between the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISIS-KP) and the Haqqani Network, but the Committee itself was unable to confirm this. The link centred on the leader of the ISIS-KP, Shahab al-Muhajir, who “may also have been previously a mid-level commander in the Haqqani Network”.

An earlier report of the Committee had stated that “one Member State has suggested that certain attacks can be denied by the Taliban and claimed by ISIL-K, (same as the ISIS-KP) with it being unclear whether these attacks were purely orchestrated by the Haqqani Network, or were joint ventures making use of ISIL-K operatives”.

Haqqani Network and India

The 2008 Indian Embassy bombing in which a senior diplomat and a military official posted at the Embassy were killed among dozens others, mostly Afghan civilians, was blamed by US and Afghan intelligence on the Haqqani Network.

The National Directorate of Security, the intelligence agency of the erstwhile Afghan government, had provided communication intercepts to Indian authorities that pointed to Haqqani involvement, allegedly with ISI support. A similar claim was made by the CIA. Other reports pointed to a Lashkar-e-Taiba involvement, with support from the Haqqani Network.

The Haqqani Network is also said to have been behind the attacks on Indian construction workers in Afghanistan in the years 2009-2012. The group’s long relationship with and loyalty to the ISI make it an invaluable asset for Pakistan, according to security officials. There is considerable disquiet in the Indian security establishment that Sirajuddin Haqqani is a member of the new government of Afghanistan.

Suggested Reading:

* Fountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 1973-2012 by Vahid Brown and Don Rassler;

* The Haqqani Network, by the Institute of the Study of War, available online at http://www.understandingwar.org;

* Twelfth Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the Security Council Taliban Sanctions Committee, June 1, 2021 (www.undocs.org)

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