By: Syed Zafar Mehdi

Life, death and legacy of U.S. ally turned foe Haqqani

September 6, 2018 - 0:24

TEHRAN - The death of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the patriarch of the dreaded militant group Haqqani Network, has generated a palpable buzz and made international headlines. The announcement was made by the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Tuesday, hailing him as a “religious scholar and exemplary warrior”, even though Afghan officials insist that he had been dead for at least four years.

What does Haqqani’s death mean to the Taliban insurgency and the war in Afghanistan? If he was already dead, then why did the group disclose the news now? The debate is getting intense in media and intelligentsia circles.

Haqqani, 71, who founded the Haqqani network in 1970s, relinquished operational leadership of the group some years ago to his son Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is now the deputy leader of the Afghan Taliban. Many seasoned observers believe his death, following a prolonged illness, will not have any major impact on the group’s operations since he mattered very little towards the end of his life.

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish said the announcement of his death was not expected to mean any major change for the Haqqani Network, since his son has been spearheading the group’s operations since many years. “Operationally, his death will not have an impact on the group,” he stressed, adding that the senior Haqqani’s role in recent years was more ideological.

Rahmatullah Nabil, the former chief of Afghan intelligence agency, agrees with that assumption. He said his death will not have any effect on the “devious activities” of the group, adding that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has already “trained his successors to be more ruthless than him”, most notably  Siraj Haqqani, Ibrahim Haqqani, Khalil Haqqani, Hamza Haqqani, Yahya Haqqani and others, suggesting that the Haqqani Network was backed by Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
Nabil said the news about his death is directly linked to the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Pakistan, and thus the U.S. State Department and Pakistan were “playing as usual”.

The timing of the announcement of his death is interesting since many believe he had died years ago. Tawab Ghorzang, Director at Afghanistan’s National Security Council, said Haqqani died back in 2007 and the news is made public now as “part of (Taliban’s) psychological warfare tactics”.

His death may or may not be relevant, but in the broader scheme of things, his legacy is important: introducing suicide bombings in Afghanistan and providing a platform to Arab fighters in the Af-Pak region. The rise of groups like ISIS in Afghanistan can partly be attributed to the radical ideology he so aggressively propounded.

Haqqani, a former U.S. ally, was once hailed as a “freedom fighter” by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and praised by the late U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson as “goodness personified”. He was among the ‘mujahideen’ Americans backed in 1980s to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

Haqqani was also a close friend of former Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, who often stayed with him in his traditional bastion of southeast Afghanistan.

His association with Pakistan, from where his group operated since 2001, dates back to his young days as a religious seminary student. According to unclassified U.S. documents, during 1970s, the senior Haqqani returned to Afghanistan following the completion of his seminary education to organize a movement against then Afghan ruler Zahir Shah. But he was soon thrown out of the country. He went back to Pakistan and established a madrassa in North Waziristan.

In 1980s, he allied with the U.S. forces to fight the communist government in Kabul backed by Russia, and that shot him to prominence in militant circles. He was supplied with both money and arms by the U.S. during that period and became the darling of the U.S., Pakistan and Arab states including Saudi Arabia and Egypt. A former CIA chief was quoted by AP saying that he personally delivered suitcases full of money to Haqqani, whom he described as “one of the good ones.”

During the war against Soviets in Afghanistan, Haqqani and Bin Laden became close confidants, as both had signed up to fight for the CIA. The head of Al-Qaeda Ayman al-Zawahiri was also one of the fighters, now being sheltered and funded by the Haqqani Network in Pakistan’s tribal region.

During the 1980s Soviet war, Haqqani developed close connections with Pakistan’s formidable intelligence agency ISI. The connection, according to many strategic affairs experts, has grown stronger over the years. After the communist government in Kabul was overthrown by the U.S.-backed ‘mujahideen’, Haqqani served as justice minister in ‘mujahideen government’, albeit briefly.

Then a group emerged by the name of Taliban, comprising fighters who had fought for the U.S. against Soviet forces. The group took power in Afghanistan in 1996, and according to a declassified cable from the U.S. Embassy, Haqqani was welcomed into the group for his unmatched military prowess. When the Taliban regime was toppled in 2001 by the U.S.-led coalition, Haqqani shifted base to Pakistan’s tribal areas and reorganized his group for a new mission – war against old friends.

Since then, Haqqani Network, an integral part of the Afghan Taliban, has been doggedly fighting against the U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. After the death of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, Haqqani, who was a key member of the Taliban’s Quetta Shura, had played an instrumental role in keeping the group’s flock together. He was considered an ideological godfather by many Taliban commanders.

In 2012, the U.S. government declared the group a terrorist organization, because the equation had changed and now the group was not serving America’s interests.

For some years now, he had been bed-ridden, and his son Sirajuddin Haqqani, who was appointed deputy head of the Afghan Taliban last year, has been actively running the day-to-day operations of the group. According to Afghan officials, Haqqani Network has been responsible for most of the complex terror attacks in Afghanistan, especially in major cities.

Considering that the senior Haqqani had stepped aside some years ago and was not anymore involved in Haqqani Network’s day-to-day operations, his death is less likely to have any impact on the group’s activities. With or without senior Haqqani, the murky war is likely to continue.



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