Sergio Restelli
Sergio Restelli

The Haqqani conundrum: A new conflict in Kabul?

Khalil-ur Rehman Haqqani in Kabul. Original image tweeted by Sarfaraz1201
Khalil-ur Rahman Haqqani in Kabul. Original Image tweeted by @Sarfaraz1201

The Twitter account for the self-proclaimed English language communication channel for the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”, has announced the appearance of the “Amir-ul-Momeenin”, Mullah Habitullah Akhunzada in Kandahar. Rumours are that the face of the current leadership, Mullah Baradar will travel to Kandahar soon to receive commands from his leader on the formation of the government. Akhunzada has a reputation for being a ruthless jurist, so any expectations that there will be a “liberal” sharia implemented are going to be dashed. While Kabul is the capital, the spiritual and tribal home of the Taliban has always been Kandahar.

At the centre of the ongoing turmoil in Afghanistan, as violence and chaos spread, is the infamous Haqqani Network that has been around for over four decades, preceding not just the presence of the United States, but also that of the erstwhile Soviet Union.

The role of the Haqqani family and its key aides, all sanctioned by the United States and the United Nations, has been key to the establishment of terror globally as well as strong support to every extremist group in the region from the taliban to the ISIS-K and Al Qaeda. Ned Price, spokesperson for the US department of state, surprisingly declared at a press briefing on the 27th of August that the Biden administration considered the Haqqani network and the Taliban as separate entities, a statement that is very far from the truth. Today the Haqqanis control Kabul, and this makes even the Taliban nervous and Mullah Baradar uncomfortable.

The network’s patriarch Jalaluddin Haqqani, who died after prolonged illness in 2018, had begun his career in 1975. He carried a $15 million reward for a large part of his life. He fought the anti-Soviet war aligning with different Islamist groups, never joining them formally. He did so also with the Taliban when they came to power power in 1996, although he became a key minister in the government headed by the Taliban founder Mullah Omar.

Indeed, Jalaluddin was one of the pioneers among the militants trained at the Darul Uloom Haqqania in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa from where he and his network derive their name. Mullah Omar, who founded the Taliban was also trained there.

Afghanistan experts recall that Jalaluddin was the principal force behind the ragtag group’s government (1996-2001) and also played a leading role in violence against the ethnic minorities and rival groups of fighters.

Security analysts say that like one of his rivals, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Jalaluddin was a protégé of the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) which funded and armed him. It was not surprising that the Haqqani’s targeted interests in Afghanistan that were viewed as hostile to the Taliban and to the Pakistani establishment.

Jalaluddin anointed his eldest son Sirajuddin as his successor before he died. Other family members include Anas and Khalil-ur Rahman Haqqani, both of whom hold key positions in the present Taliban structure that is taking shape.

The way the US seeks to now separate the Haqqani’s and the Taliban, raises questions whether the February 2020 Doha Agreement signed by the Trump administration covered the Haqqani’s and sought guarantees of protection from them.

Beyond designating the Haqqani group controlling Kabul as terrorists, key members have also been individually designated. Haqqani leaders Saidullah Jan, Yahya Haqqani, and Muhammad Omar Zadran, as well as suicide operations chief Qari Abdul Rauf (also known as Qari Zakir), and Ibrahim Haqqani, remain either designated for financial sanctions or are on U.S. most-wanted lists.

The US sanctions on the Haqqani network was delayed given the Haqqani’s proximity to the Pakistani ISI. US political interests in Pakistan have often ignored the advice of the CIA and security experts until it was too late. Sanctions were finally levied in 2012, by designating the Haqqani Network as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation because of its involvement in the Afghan insurgency, attacks on US military and civilian personnel and Western interests in Afghanistan, and because of its ties to the Taliban and al-Qaida. That is how the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) still defines those that now lead the security in Kabul.

After 15th of August and the fall of Kabul, the Haqqani’s effectively control Afghanistan. Anas Haqqani is at the center of negotiations among the various factions of Taliban as also with the Panjshir resistance. Khalil-ur Rehman Haqqani was seen leading the Friday prayers at the central Mosque in Kabul and moves freely in the city armed with his men despite the presence of US troops barely a mile away at the airport and having a $5 million “kill or capture” bounty on his head. He is now responsible for safe passage for the US expats and other Afghans to the airport.

Kabul is under control of over 6,000 terrorists of Haqqani network with Mullah Yaqoob, son of Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders playing a more understated role and this is reportedly making them nervous.

Najam Sethi’s editorial in The Friday Times (August 27, 2021) quotes “a calibrated statement from Khalil-ur Rehman Haqqani,” calling the network itself “possibly the most powerful faction in the Taliban”.

Asked by veteran reporter Azaz Syed about the concerns of China, Pakistan and Uzbekistan regarding local and international militant organisations, Khalil listened to the question and answered carefully. “We want peace among all Muslim countries. My advice is peace. For the entire world and Muslims, my message is that all countries should give rights to all the people following different religions; have peace with them and should not do oppression.” Asked again that Pakistan has reservations about a few militant groups, Haqqani replied that “Muslims in the world should have peace among them, so in this case I also advise the same.”

Sethi underlines the fact that the Haqqanis and the Taliban want to provide no guarantee of what their allies – Pakistan and China – expect from them in return for the political, diplomatic and military support that has brought them to power in Kabul.

Clearly, Khalil-ur Rehman Haqqani is saying that Pakistan should hold negotiations with the Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan and Baloch separatists and not press the Taliban for kinetic action against them. He also advises China to look after its religious minorities (Uighurs) and resolve their grievances peacefully.

About the Author
Sergio Restelli is an Italian political advisor, author and geopolitical expert. He served in the Craxi government in the 1990's as the special assistant to the deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Martelli and worked closely with anti-mafia magistrates Falcone and Borsellino. Over the past decades he has been involved in peace building and diplomacy efforts in the Middle East and North Africa. He has written for Geopolitica and several Italian online and print media. In 2020 his first fiction "Napoli sta bene" was published.
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