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The Haqqani Headache

I read a couple of interesting articles over the weekend, about the infamous Haqqani network, that is causing such a headache for the US in its conflict in AfPak. This first one (from an Irishman who has great experience in the region) Michael Semple makes for fascinating (and deeply troubling) reading.  He offers a quick decent summary on the roots of the Haqqani militia

Here are the basics. Jalaluddin Haqqani was one of the leading Pashtun commanders of the jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s. From the Zadran tribe, he is one of the few major commanders who made his peace with the Taliban, serving its government in the 1990s as a border affairs minister. The sons of the now aging Jalaluddin front the organization. Although the eldest son, Khalifa Seraj, is meant to be the senior decision-maker, his younger brother, Badruddin, is probably the family member most closely involved in the embassy siege and seems to be more active and accessible. In part, the brothers draw upon fighters from the Zadran tribe in the border provinces who were loyal to Jalaluddin during the 1980s

He goes on to add that they have ‘an unlimited supply of men for small-arms ambushes and attacks on NATO posts and administrative center …that over the last two years the Haqqanis have developed what amounts to a special forces capability

Semple believes that the Haqqani Network, instead of being a single close knit entity, has expanded and can draw on the resources and expertise of other militia/actors in the region.  He thinks the term ‘network’ is underselling their capability and breadth, thinking it more apt to dub them the ‘Waziristan Militant Complex’.

Semple takes care not to lay blame for the recent spectacular Kabul attack and Rabbani assassination squarely at the feet of the Haqqani’s, but of all the actors able to mount such headline grabbers, he’s in no doubt that they fit the mould best. And as such, believes its a ‘startling pushback against the Kandahari Taliban leadership’, which may illustrate the Haqqani’s manouvering to get a seat on the Afghan national stage post-Nato.  Semple finishes by warning that the Haqqani’s rely on unrest for their survival, and that the Waziristan region may have to opt out of any negotiated settlement with the Taliban, to be dealt with seperately.  NATO should also expect more of these ‘spectaculars’ as any potential deal with the Taliban draws near.

A second article caught my eye, by Cyril Almeida.  He fashions his article as if it were written from the viewpoint of the Pakistani governmentPutting forward what he believes to be their narrative of the conflict and as such, one line sticks out –

Similarly, the official Pakistani response to American cage-rattling has been recycled, boilerplate stuff: go fix Afghanistan; interdict the Haqqanis on the Afghan side of the border if you want; we`re doing enough from our side, etc. But scratch the surface and a shift is visible: we have started to own the Haqqanis.

Almeida continues further –

In private, circles close to the establishment readily admit what they used to dance around before: the Haqqanis are our assets; they are our boys; they are the ace up our sleeves.

Leading figures in the US are now stating openly that ‘Haqqani is veritable arm of Pakistan’s ISI’ . Almeida elucidates on how the conflict in Afghanistan was supposed to go according to the US, it would be able to ‘tame’ Afghanistan.  However

The cunning Afghans would dodge the charging American bull forever and plunge their rusty swords into its back whenever they could. The mightiest war machine in history would eventually be brought to its knees, exhausted and out of money and the will to fight.

Which appears now to be the case. Almeida infers that the Pakistanis have simply used their ‘helpful allies like the Haqqanis and others’ to make the Americans see sense.  Almeida believes the Pakistani govt thinks an Afghanistan with the US gone, whilst not a land of milk and honey, would be more manageable, and hopefully limit the fire of the lesser jihad fanning across to Islamabad.  However he signals a couple of warnings with this narrative. First, the Taliban tend not to play by other peoples rules and weren’t a benefit to Pakistan last time. Second, Almeida believes that the bubbling militancy in Pakistan ‘no longer needs the oxygen of an Afghan jihad to sustain itself’ (which makes for worrying times if true).  Lastly…

does it make sense to count on eventual rationality from the American superpower in Afghanistan and to risk its ire for hastening what we believe is the inevitable?

An excellent question for the Pakistan government.  Of the three warnings Almeida highlights, I would love to know which one the Pakistan govt considers the more important.  I think we can discount the first one.


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