The Haqqani Network, Al-Qaeda, and Pakistan’s Jihad in Afghanistan

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 7 September 2021

Anti-Taliban fighters watch U.S. airstrikes at Tora Bora, 16 December 2001 || REUTERS/Erik de Castro

The State Department spokesman Ned Price said, on 27 August, “The Taliban and the Haqqani Network are separate entities”. The next day, the Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby slightly modulated this, having first tried to dismiss the question, by conceding there was “a certain amount of … commingling … there’s a marbling … of Taliban and Haqqani”, before saying he was “pushing back … [on] the relevance of that discussion”.

What these officials were trying to do was two-fold: (1) to refute press reports that U.S. officials in Kabul had shared “a list of names of American citizens, green card holders, and Afghan allies” with the Taliban, amounting to having “put all those Afghans on a kill list”, as one “defense official” put it; and (2) to deny that the U.S. coordination with the Taliban to evacuate people the jihadists wanted to kill—a surreal enough situation—had involved the additional political and legal problems of coordinating with a formally registered Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), as the Haqqani Network is.

The “lists” story was effectively confirmed by President Joe Biden, who said, “It could very well have happened”, while trying to minimise the scope and scale of it, saying the U.S. shared information with the Taliban on imminent arrivals of a group or a busload of people at the airport, telling the Taliban, “‘Here’s the names of twelve people; they’re coming.  Let them through’.”

Much more interesting is the second part of the equation, however, and it is here that the administration’s preferred narrative simply breaks down on contact with reality, as has happened repeatedly over Afghanistan—about the chances of survival for the government, the U.S. role in making that survival impossible, who decided on the closure of Bagram Airbase, the Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to get at-risk Afghans out, about the timeline for the evacuation, and on and on.

The truth is that the Haqqani Network perhaps best exemplifies, indeed is in many ways the fulcrum around which turns, the jihadist network under the control of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) that very much includes the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. There is no doubt that the Haqqani Network is, as then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen put it in 2011, “a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency”. Nor is there any doubt about the extent to which the Haqqanis are indistinguishable from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which are themselves not seriously distinct and instead operate as part of this broader ISI network.

ORIGINS OF THE HAQQANI NETWORK

Jalaluddin Haqqani

Jalaluddin Haqqani (b. 1939) was one of the most important Mujahideen leaders during the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, a field commander for Hizb-i-Islami Khalis (HIK), a Mujahideen group led by Mawlani Muhammad Yunis Khalis, which had broken away from the main branch of Hizb-i-Islami, led by ISI favourite Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Most of the Mujahideen commanders descend from Jamiat-e-Islami (JI), derived from the Subcontinent’s manifestation of the Muslim Brotherhood.[1] These Islamists fled Afghanistan after the republican coup in July 1973 that brought to power a Soviet-influenced socialist regime under Muhammad Daoud Khan. Contrary to the popular belief that Pakistan began supporting Islamists in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion as part of an American policy, the reality is the reverse.[2]

The Americans were drawn into supporting Pakistan’s violent jihad policy in Afghanistan that instrumentalised the JI refugees and began within weeks of Daoud taking power in the summer of 1973.[3] Note that this is under Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, not General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who is usually blamed for the militant Islamization of Pakistan. That trend pre-dates independence and was systematised under Army Chief-turned-dictator Ayub Khan from 1951 onwards,[4] coinciding with Pakistan’s initiation of the use of Islamists to interfere in Afghanistan not later than 1956. All seven of the main Mujahideen groups during the anti-Soviet jihad were formed years before the Soviets crossed the Amu Darya in December 1979.[5]

Jalaluddin had openly called for jihad against Daoud and begun organising for it immediately after the coup in 1973,[6] and the ISI began providing training and monthly stipends for him and the other Afghan Islamists through Pakistan’s Frontier Corps,[7] allowing a serious base of insurgent activity to build inside Afghanistan, particularly in Paktia province and ultimately the wider Loya Paktia, right on Pakistan’s border.[8] The headquarters of the ISI’s Afghan jihad into the Soviet occupation period was Peshawar, thirty miles inside Pakistan, and it was in the nearby Darul Uloom Haqqania, popularly known as the “University of Jihad”, that legions from all over the world were indoctrinated in Islamic militancy, including Khalis, Jalaluddin (it’s where the “Haqqani” comes from), and many others later involved in the rise of the Taliban movement.[9]

There were a series of early set-backs for the ISI jihad in Afghanistan, culminating in the summer 1975 defeat of the ISI efforts to combine popular uprisings around the country with a military coup by Islamist infiltrators in the Afghan army.[10] There was some further disruption after Zia’s coup against Bhutto within Pakistan in July 1977. Still, all through this period from 1975 to 1977, while giving up on the idea of a broad-based mass-rising, the ISI-beholden Islamist insurgents continued activity in Afghanistan, switching the focus to targeted assassinations and disruptive attacks in Kabul.[11]

Daoud had been making some headway in lowering the temperature with Pakistan and Zia made a short-lived effort to continue the détente even after the April 1978 Communist coup in Afghanistan. It did not last long, and by the summer of 1978, Pakistan’s jihad in Afghanistan was at full-throttle,[12] and HIK was fully operational as an independent entity, with marked advantages over some other Mujahideen groups whose leaders originated in Kabul or the north, since it was operating on home turf in south-east Afghanistan.[13]

It was witnessing the efficacious raids of the HIK Mujahideen led by Jalaluddin against the Communist government in Paktia in June 1979 that inspired Mustafa Hamid to join the cause, one of the few early Arab links to the ISI’s Afghan jihad.[14] These advantages that fed into Jalaluddin’s relative effectiveness against the Soviets would make him one of the few exceptions to the general rule that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Saudis only funded the Mujahideen through the ISI—and this independent revenue stream made Jalaluddin more powerful still within the anti-Soviet insurgency.[15]

HAQQANIS, THE TALIBAN, AND AL-QAEDA

Khalis and Jalaluddin were enthusiastic proponents of Arab involvement in the Afghan jihad at a time when most Mujahideen factions were hesitant.[16] Jalaluddin was the driving force behind Abdul Rasul Sayyaf’s call during a 1980 trip to Abu Dhabi for foreign fighters to join the jihad in Afghanistan, the first effort to bring Arabs into the war—four years before Abdullah Azzam founded the Services Bureau (Maktab al-Khadamat) that begins the major phase of Arab involvement in the anti-Soviet jihad.[17]

This early involvement meant that by 1986 at the latest the Haqqanis were merged with the Arab-Afghan milieu out of which Al-Qaeda would form. In the words of the Haqqanis biographers: “Al-Qaeda and the Haqqani Network … evolved together, and they have remained intertwined throughout their history”.[18] The Taliban founder Mullah Muhammad Umar was himself a member of HIK.

Jalaluddin, Usama bin Laden, and Al-Qaeda’s later military chief, Muhammad Atef (Abu Hafs al-Masri), were involved in the Battle of Jaji in Paktia province in April 1987, the second of three major battles in Arab-Afghan historiography.[19] Jaji was not a success, but it was not a disaster like the battle a year earlier at Zhawar.[20] The differential in outcome was attributed by the jihadists to the creation of the Lion’s Den of Supporters (al-Masada al-Ansar) training camp under Bin Laden’s sponsorship, a camp that some would simply call “the military base” (al-Qaeda al-Askariyya).[21] Al-Masada was “structurally integrated with Haqqani operations at [their main base in] Zhawara”.[22]

After the Jaji battle, sold in the Gulf and elsewhere as a glorious victory, a flood of foreign volunteers arrived, too many for Al-Masada, and a “string of camps” started spreading out near Khost,[23] still in the Khalis-Haqqani zone of influence, under Ali Amin al-Rashidi (Abu Ubayda al-Panjshiri), Atef’s predecessor. Both Al-Rashidi and Atef originated within the Haqqani Network.[24]

Even as the Soviets withdrew, Jalaluddin showed a “clear willingness to provide additional facilities for the Arabs”, specifically Bin Laden and his nascent Al-Qaeda.[25] The Haqqani relationship with Al-Qaeda did not end when Bin Laden went to Sudan, “but rather expanded and was considerably internationalized”.[26] The ISI, meanwhile, had already begun to use the HIK-overseen Bin Laden camps in Afghanistan to train jihadists that were then sent to war against India in Kashmir, cementing the transnational nature of the Haqqani Network.[27] The ISI created its main “Kashmiri” groups, like Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), within the Haqqani camps in eastern Afghanistan and this Haqqani infrastructure continued as the training ground and support system for the Kashmir jihad right through the 1990s.

After the Red Army was out of Afghanistan, the Pakistani Army and ISI tried to install Hekmatyar in power in Kabul; despite a bloody civil war, first against the Communist regime and then against the other Mujahideen that destroyed the city, they failed. The ISI, therefore, dropped Hekmatyar and turned to the Taliban in 1994. Many Mujahideen groups opposed the Taliban, notably Ahmad Shah Masud’s, but many did not and a core of the Mujahideen defectors was Jalaluddin and HIK, giving the Taliban solid control of a crucial zone of the country without a fight.[28]

The Taliban suffered many reverses as it warred with the Mujahideen remnants because of the military incompetence of its forces and their dire unpopularity, but Pakistan was always there to make up the difference, significantly through the Haqqani Network, which enabled the Taliban’s capture of Kabul in September 1996.[29] The anti-Taliban Mujahideen fled north and combined their forces in a United Front that is most often known as the “Northern Alliance”. The Taliban declared themselves a government that was only ever recognised by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Jalaluddin served the as “minister of tribal and border affairs”, as well as governor of Paktia province, in effect gendarme of the Pakistani border, from the beginning to the end of the Taliban regime.

Once the Taliban was in power, its forces were trained for the long war in the north at the Haqqani camps alongside the “Kashmiri” jihadists, closely overseen by the ISI,[30] which cycled these militants from front to front as needed, with no regard for borders or nationality.[31] After the Taliban’s fall, the ISI network, with the Haqqanis at its centre, was fused even more tightly, as Pakistan managed militancy on its own soil and sought to counter India’s influence in Afghanistan, a phenomenon hyped out of all proportion by the paranoid ISI.[32] For example, the atrocity against the Indian Embassy in Kabul in 2008 was a “joint” operation between LeT and the Haqqanis.[33]

Al-Qaeda had returned to Afghanistan and settled into the nominally Taliban-held areas months before Kabul fell in 1996, with particular concentrations in the old Arab-Afghan epicentre, renewing their relations with the Haqqanis. For the next five years, to the extent there was anything one could call a “state”, Al-Qaeda was part of it, a crucial financial and military support system to the Taliban regime. One of the most capable “Taliban” units in the late 1990s was 55th Arab Brigade, led by senior Al-Qaeda operative Nashwan Abd al-Baqi (Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi), a key liaison in the early 2000s with what became the Islamic State movement.

The Haqqani Network was key to Al-Qaeda’s leadership escaping Afghanistan in December 2001,[34] after another ISI group with which the Haqqanis are closely interlinked, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), tried to blow up the Lok Sabha and a war nearly broke out between India and Pakistan, “forcing” Pakistan to move the troops from the western frontier to the east, so there was no “anvil” when the U.S. “hammer” came down against Al-Qaeda at Tora Bora.

It should be noted that Iran also played a part in Al-Qaeda’s escape via Hekmatyar, who had by then switched allegiance to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). There has been a considerable overlap of assets between Pakistan and Iran in Afghanistan,[35] and that includes the Haqqani Network, which Qassem Sulaymani, the late commander of IRGC’s Quds Force, was able to at least rent for attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The Taliban, broken in late 2001, was nurtured back to health in its Pakistani sanctuary and able to be used by the ISI to begin the insurgency in the spring of 2003. The Haqqani element would function as a military keystone of the Taliban-Qaeda insurgency.[36] It was from the Haqqani-run statelet in North Waziristan, kept in operation with the full and active support of the Pakistani Army, that many of Al-Qaeda’s mid-2000s international plots were planned and directed.[37] And it was the Haqqanis the ISI has used for some of the most devastating attacks in Afghanistan.[38] The 2009 counterintelligence disaster at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost that led to the murder of seven CIA officers and two others, a Jordanian intelligence officer and an Afghan, by an Al-Qaeda suicide bomber,[39] was orchestrated by the Haqqanis, acting at the behest of the ISI.

THE HAQQANI NETWORK NOW

Jalaluddin died from an unspecified long illness in September 2018. Jalaluddin’s son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, had taken over much of the responsibilities from his father years before 2018 and is now the “official” leader. Jalaluddin’s other son, Anas Haqqani, and Jalaluddin’s brother, Khalil Haqqani, who led the first prayers in the main mosque in Kabul after the fall of the city a month ago, are also key leaders. Since 2016, when Hibatullah Akhundzada was named as Taliban leader, Sirajuddin has been one of his deputies; the other is Mullah Muhammad Yaqub, the son of the first Taliban leader, Mullah Umar.

One would think this publicly announced organisational structure would be enough to prevent there being any argument about whether the Taliban and the Haqqani Network are one and the same, and until two weeks ago one would have been right. The U.S. National Defense Authorization Act passed earlier this year noted that “the term ‘Taliban’ … includes subordinate organizations, such as the Haqqani Network”. A United Nations report from June 2021 stated: “Within the Taliban structure, the Haqqani Network remains the Taliban’s most combat-ready forces … and is the primary liaison between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.” Indeed, Sirajuddin “is the leader of the [Taliban’s] Miram Shah Shura”, ultimately answerable to Taliban’s top leadership council, the Rabbari Shura (a.k.a. Quetta Shura), and Sirajuddin “is also assessed to be a member of the wider Al-Qaeda leadership”.

Sirajuddin was never shy about his integration with Al-Qaeda—or his transnational aims. In 2011, Sirajuddin published a 144-page book “urging readers to emulate Al-Qaeda’s terrorist tactics against Western targets far from home”:

The [Pashto-language] book asserts that volunteering to become a suicide bomber demonstrates “good character,” and anyone who does so “is favored by Almighty Allah.” The beheading of infidels, traitors, and spies is also approved in Islam, the book says …

The book gives special praise to Al-Qaeda as a small Muslim group that “terrifies” its enemies. Aspiring jihadists should emulate the group’s ability to “stay and live among people who are against our faith and ideology, like those militants operating in Europe and the U.S.,” the book urges: “Blend in, shave, wear Western dress, be patient.” … As for targets, it advises, “You should attack the enemy’s weaker points, such as economic targets like the World Trade Center and diplomatic targets like the U.S. embassies in Africa.” …

Much of the book is devoted to the best methods for killing people and destroying targets. It describes all sorts of deadly weapons … And it ends with a detailed treatise on making and using explosive devices.

Anas Haqqani

Even more unfortunately for the Biden administration’s calamitous public diplomacy, days after Ned Price’s statement, Anas vehemently rejected any distinction in an interview with Newlines, bluntly stating: “We are the Taliban”. Again, this was not a revelation. Anas was released—along with Haji Malik Khan (an uncle of his and Sirajuddin’s) and Hafiz Abdul Rashid Omari—in a prisoner exchange in November 2019 and then turned up in Doha as a member of the Taliban’s “Political Commission”, supposedly “negotiating” with the U.S., despite the Taliban having “always denied [he] was a member”.

A U.N. May 2020 report noted: “Relations between the Taliban, especially the Haqqani Network, and Al-Qaeda remain close, based on friendship, a history of shared struggle, ideological sympathy, and intermarriage.” The family links that bind “the Taliban”, “the Haqqani Network”, and “Al-Qaeda” are a critical factor that undergirds the operational reality that there is no compartmentalisation within this broad jihadist network the ISI runs.[40]

The “Haqqani Network” has been spearheading the messaging and military-security efforts of “the Taliban”, both before and after the conquest of the country last month. It was Sirajuddin whose name was attached to the notorious New York Times op-ed in February 2020, entitled, be it noted, “What We, the Taliban, Want” [italics added] and where Sirajuddin was identified plainly as “the deputy leader of the Taliban”. Bizarre as it was for a listed terrorist to be given direct access to the Western media like this, it was is not unique. Even so, there was something especially nauseating in a U.S. newspaper giving space for propaganda to people who had just abducted an American, as the Taliban/Haqqanis had with Mark Frerichs. Frerichs remains a Taliban hostage to this day.

Another brother of Sirajuddin’s, Abdul Aziz Abbasin, was involved in supplying ammunition and explosives to the Taliban forces in provinces south of Kabul, along the border with Pakistan.[41] Meanwhile, Sirajuddin boasts of the array of foreigners, many of them trained by Al-Qaeda, he commands on behalf of the Taliban. (Contrary to an inexplicably widespread belief, the Taliban is not “nationalist” and not only serves the foreign ISI but is composed in significant proportion of foreigners.[42]) And members of the Haqqani clan continue to be killed alongside Al-Qaeda senior leaders in drone strikes in North Waziristan.[43] Again, this is a fluid network in which it is not analytically useful to think of the labels “Taliban”, “Haqqani Network”, and “Al-Qaeda” denoting discrete groups with definable borders between them.[44]

Making the point in a different way, the same May 2020 U.N. report publicly disclosed what anyone could have assumed: “The Taliban regularly consulted with Al-Qaeda during negotiations with the United States and offered guarantees that it would honour their historical ties.” This was inconvenient to Donald Trump’s administration, which had surrounded its February 2020 “deal” with the Taliban in a haze of propaganda about a “break” between the two and even of the Taliban “work[ing] alongside [the U.S.] to destroy, deny resources to, and have Al-Qaeda depart from [Afghanistan].”

THE HAQQANIS AND THE ISLAMIC STATE

After the massacre by the Islamic State’s Khorasan Province (ISKP) of 170 people at the Kabul airport on 26 August, some attention has fallen on the Haqqani Network for apparent overlaps with ISKP. Intelligence passed to the U.N. suggested “tactical or commander-level collaboration between ISIL-K [i.e. ISKP] and the Haqqani Network” and in some places in Afghanistan it had been “unclear whether … attacks were purely orchestrated by the Haqqani Network, or were joint ventures making use of ISIL-K operatives”.

It is true that the Haqqanis and ISKP used some of the same supply chains for their networks in Kabul and recruited from some of the same pools, namely well-educated urbanites.[45] But the idea of “joint” ISKP-Haqqani attacks is not credible; that is not how the Islamic State (IS) works.

There is no doubt that ISKP has bolstered its capabilities by peeling away some Haqqani urban attack networks. The misattribution of some ISKP attacks to the Haqqanis seems to result from the fallen Afghan government’s intelligence service simply not believing these defections were genuine or meaningful, since the republic never believed ISKP was real, seeing it as just one more ISI front group. It is also possible that there is some confusion because ISKP has infiltrated and co-opted Haqqani elements that the organisation still believes it controls, as is standard in IS’s wilayat model.

THE NEW-OLD REGIME IN AFGHANISTAN

The ISI has been savouring the victory of its jihadist army in Afghanistan. Their puppet prime minister in Pakistan, Imran Khan, was allowed to gloat in public days after the fall of Kabul. Wanted Al-Qaeda operatives like Amin ul-Haq have been swaggering in the streets. A “senior Pakistani official” was allowed to tell Reuters on 3 September that Pakistan planned to send security and intelligence officials, possibly even the head of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, to Kabul to help the Taliban reorganise the Afghan military.” This “help” duly arrived the next day, when the ISI chief, Faiz Hameed, showed up in person in Kabul to coordinate the crushing of the final pocket of resistance in Panjshir province, the capital of which fell yesterday morning, and to iron out the turf wars among the various ISI employees over who gets what part of the spoils in the “official” government of the Taliban.

This “formal” structure of the Taliban’s renewed Islamic Emirate was announced a few hours ago, and the Haqqani Network is well-represented. Sirajuddin was given the interior ministry and Khalil Haqqani was made minister of refugees—meaning the Taliban has two of the U.S.’s “most wanted” terrorists in its “cabinet”. Akhundzada is, of course, the supreme leader. Mullah Yaqub has the defence ministry.

The Taliban prime minister is Mullah Muhammad Akhund, the head of the Rabbari/Quetta Shura who is under U.N. sanctions, and one of his deputies is Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, among the founders of the Taliban and the public face of the Taliban in Doha and elsewhere for a while now. The other deputy prime minister is Abdul Salam Hanafi, also a part of the Doha “negotiations”. Another member of the “negotiations team”, Amir Khan Muttaqi, is the foreign minister. Abdul Hakim Ishaqzai (or Shaykh Hakim Haqqani) has the justice ministry.[46] Mullah Hidayat Badri is the finance minister. And the information ministry is in the hands of Khirullah Khairkhwa, a former inmate at Guantanamo Bay,[47] who has strong ties to Iran’s clerical regime. A line-up meant to signal “inclusivity” this is not.

The search by the Taliban for some kind of recognition and the U.S. administration’s desire to make its abandonment of Afghanistan seem a little less calamitous let one glimpse the next stage of this rolling disaster. The Pakistani official speaking to Reuters mentioned ISKP and the alleged importance of cooperating with Pakistan for the sake of stability and counter-terrorism in Afghanistan. This idea of regarding Pakistan and its Taliban jihadists as “counter-terrorism partners” is something already floated by both the Trump and Biden administrations. What should be a laughable proposition—treating a barely-disguised arsonist as the fire brigade—has worked well enough for the last twenty years; why wouldn’t it work again now, especially when the ISI has hundreds of American hostages to bargain with?

 

 

 

Post has been updated

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REFERENCES

[1] Casey Garret Johnson, “The Political Deal With Hezb-e-Islami: What it Means for the Talks with the Taliban and Peace in Afghanistan”, Peaceworks, 6 July 2018. Full report available here.

[2] Though Pakistan would later claim it served as a loyal U.S. ally in the Cold War by supporting the Mujahideen, only to be “callously abandoned” in 1990 to deal with a chaotic Afghanistan heaving with religious extremists [Pervez Musharraf, In the Line of Fire, p. 202], Abdul Sattar, a senior diplomat and one of the men with the closest view of what Pakistan did during the 1970s and 1980s, is adamant in his memoir that Pakistan deliberately tried to separate its support for the Mujahideen from the Cold War. Sattar makes clear that Pakistan wanted U.S. money—flagged as economic aid, but cash is obviously fungible—to run the insurgency, yet objected to the defence-flagged portion precisely because it “would enhance risks of reinvolvement in the Cold War”. Sattar is clear that Pakistan did not want to be seen as too close to the Americans—“Pakistan was anxious to preclude any impression of acting at the behest of the United States or wanting to push Afghanistan into the Cold War”—not least so that Islamabad could retain good relations with the Islamic Revolution that had taken over Iran; he rather proudly notes the official Pakistani protest in April 1980 when the U.S. launched Operation EAGLE CLAW to try to recover the hostages form the Tehran Embassy. [Abdul Sattar (2007), Pakistan’s Foreign Policy, 1947-2005, pp. 158-60.] Sattar reiterates: Pakistan “wanted to retain credibility as an independent actor in the hope of persuading the Soviet Union to agree to a political solution of the Afghanistan question outside the Cold War context.” [Pakistan’s Foreign Policy, 1947-2005, p. 160.] Pakistan did this all the way along: spoke in anti-Communist terms to get money from the Americans that it intended to use for its own interests, generally against India—as even the Afghan policy was, ultimately—and carried out mechanistically using jihadists. For the full story, see: Hussain Haqqani, Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding (2013).

[3] (General) Khalid Mahmud Arif (1995), Working With Zia, p. 306.

[4] Christine Fair (2014), Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War, pp. 72-6.

[5] Fighting to the End, pp. 124-6. Even after the Soviet invasion, it took some time for the U.S. to begin supporting the ISI-run insurgency in Afghanistan against the Red Army because of the U.S. sanctions imposed on Pakistan in April 1979. explains that President Jimmy Carter had offered an aid package to Pakistan in 1980, but imposed what Zia considered “onerous conditions” and “refused to de-link economic assistance from the defence component”, so Zia rejected the whole thing contemptuously as “peanuts” and waited for Ronald Reagan to come into office in January 1981. But it took Reagan time to find a workaround for the sanctions. What this meant was: “For more than a year, [Pakistan] continued to support the Afghan resistance … out of its own meagre resources”. [Pakistan’s Foreign Policy, 1947-2005, p. 159.] U.S. money started flowing to the Mujahideen via Pakistan in 1982. [Fighting to the End, p. 207.]

[6] Vahid Brown and Don Rassler (2013), Fountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 1973-2012, p. 45.

[7] Fountainhead of Jihad, p. 44.

[8] Fountainhead of Jihad, p. 46.

[9] Daniel Markey (2013), No Exit from Pakistan: America’s Tortured Relationship With Islamabad, p. 52.

[10] Oved Lobel, “The Graveyard of Empires: The Causes and Consequences of American Withdrawal from Afghanistan”, European Eye on Radicalization, 4 August 2021. Full report available here.

[11] Fountainhead of Jihad, p. 49.

[12] Fighting to the End, pp. 123-24.

[13] Fighting to the End, p. 125; Fountainhead of Jihad, pp. 50-1.

[14] Leah Farrall and Mustafa Hamid (2015), The Arabs at War in Afghanistan, p. 34.

[15] Fountainhead of Jihad, p. 68-9.

[16] The Arabs at War in Afghanistan, pp. 35, 38.

[17] The Arabs at War in Afghanistan, p. 30.

[18] Fountainhead of Jihad, p. 8.

[19] The third of the major battles in Arab-Afghan historiography, at Jalalabad in March 1989, a month after the Soviets left, was intended as a decisive blow to the Communist government; it was a debacle. The Communists held on for three more years, until the Soviet Union collapsed and the cheques to its clone in Kabul ceased. The Caravan, p. 393.

[20] Thomas Hegghammer (2020), The Caravan: Abdallah Azzam and the Rise of Global Jihad, p. 334.

[21] The Caravan, pp. 350-52.

[22] Don Rassler and Vahid Brown, “The Haqqani Nexus and the Evolution of al-Qa’ida”, Combatting Terrorism Center, 13 July 2011. Full report available here.

[23] The Caravan, pp. 356-57.

[24] Fountainhead of Jihad, p. 8.

[25] Fountainhead of Jihad, p. 208.

[26] Fountainhead of Jihad, p. 91.

[27] Fountainhead of Jihad, pp. 69-70.

[28] The Arabs at War in Afghanistan, p. 46.

[29] Fountainhead of Jihad, p. 154.

[30] Fountainhead of Jihad, pp. 154-55.

[31] Lobel, “The Graveyard of Empires”.

[32] Rassler and Brown refer to the Haqqani Network acting as “a paramilitary and diplomatic arm of the Pakistani government”. Fountainhead of Jihad, pp. 156-62.

[33] Fountainhead of Jihad, pp. 151-52.

[34] Fountainhead of Jihad, p. 46.

[35] Lobel, “The Graveyard of Empires”.

[36] While being crucial to the “Afghan” Taliban, the Haqqanis are also deeply enmeshed with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or “Pakistani Taliban”, officially proclaimed in 2007, which is theoretically hostile to the Pakistani state. At any kind of granular level, however, this “good Taliban”/“bad Taliban” distinction collapses and what is left is a shifting network of hat-swapping jihadists, all dependent on the ISI. Fountainhead of Jihad, pp. 164-66, 204-07.

[37] Fountainhead of Jihad, pp. 165-67.

[38] Haqqani involvement in ISI-run “spectaculars” in Afghanistan include: the attacks on the Indian Embassy in 2008 and the U.S. Embassy in 2011, and a gruesome truck bombing in Kabul in 2017 that slaughtered 150 people and wounded 400 more

[39] Fountainhead of Jihad, p. 205.

[40] Lobel, “The Graveyard of Empires”.

[41] The provinces Abbasin was important in supplying were the old Haqqani stomping ground of Paktia, plus Ghazni, Wardak, and Parwan.

[42] Lobel, “The Graveyard of Empires”.

[43] Fountainhead of Jihad, p. 209.

[44] Lobel, “The Graveyard of Empires”.

[45] Borhan Osman, “Bourgeois Jihad: Why Young, Middle-Class Afghans Join the Islamic State”, United States Institute of Peace (USIP), 1 June 2020. Full report available here.

[46] The Red Units (Sare Qeta), variously described as a “rapid reaction force” or “special forces” and invariably described as “elite”, are perhaps the only Taliban unit to even approach rivalling the Haqqani Network in terms of military capabilities. The Red Units were led by Mullah Abdul Rehman, much better known as “Pir Agha”, who was the Taliban shadow governor of Nangarhar province for a long time. Before the Taliban takeover, Pir Agha had stepped down as both leader of the Red Units and shadow governor of Nangarhar to become shadow governor of Paktika province. The Red Units bore the brunt of the fighting with ISKP in Nangarhar and Kunar, carrying out that fight under a fatwa from Ishaqzai, a founding member of the Taliban, the senior jurist during its rule in the 1990s, and leader of the “negotiating team” in Qatar since late 2020. ISKP gave up its territorial holdings in late 2019, and the Red Units were deployed around the country during the march to Kabul this year.

[47] In a clear message to the Americans, Khairkhwa is one of four terrorists once held in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay named in the Taliban cabinet. All four were released by President Barack Obama in the prisoner exchange in 2014 to recover a U.S. deserter, Bowe Bergdahl. The other three are: Abdul Haq Wasiq, the intelligence director; Norullah Noori, minister of borders and tribal affairs; and Muhammad Fazl, the deputy minister of defence. (The fifth of the “Taliban Five” released in exchange for Bergdahl, Muhammad Nabi Umari, was named as governor of Khost shortly after the fall of Kabul.)

2 thoughts on “The Haqqani Network, Al-Qaeda, and Pakistan’s Jihad in Afghanistan

  1. pre-Boomer Marine brat

    Thanks for the breadth and depth of this.

    2001-2008, the US delicately tried to bring Kayani and Pasha into the fight. But since (largely due to internal US cultural/political issues) the White House has co-oped the State Dept’s pejorative and obscene moniker – “Foggy Bottom”.

    The American press as a whole has NEVER understood ANY of this.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Islamic State Says the Massacre at Kabul Airport Shows They Are the True Jihadists - Kyle Orton's Blog

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