That the US continues to reward Pakistan’s patronage of jihadists will only lead to the vicious circle continuing uninterrupted, while Afghanistan and India will have to live with consequences of such dangerously aberrant behaviour in their immediate neighbourhood.
The National Security Archive at the George Washington University has published a cache of declassified documents from the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), dating from 2008 through 2010, that gives a glimpse into the financial and logistical connections of the Haqqani network (HQN). Among these heavily redacted cables are two transmissions, from January 11, 2010 and February 6, 2010, which indicate that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate gave $200,000 to the HQN for the December 30, 2009 jihadist attack on the Forward Operating Base (FOB) Chapman, a CIA facility in Khost, Afghanistan. The cables note that until the end of 2009, regular monthly meetings were held between HQN ringleader Sirajuddin Haqqani (who has lead the group since 2005 when his father and HQN founder Jalaluddin retired), his brother Badruddin Haqqani and some ISI officers. The cables name some ISI officers – a Colonel Nasib and a Major Daoud [sic] – who participated in a meeting in which an unknown amount of funds were disbursed to the HQN to launch attacks in Khost. In another meeting the ISI handlers told the HQN “to expedite attack preparations and lethality in Afghanistan”.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office has since rejected the charge, calling it “preposterous” and added that “Pakistan has through a series of military operations, severely damaged and weakened the TTP and other militant and terrorist organizations”.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had indeed claimed the FOB Chapman attack and released a video featuring Jordanian suicide bomber Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi aka Abu Dujanah al-Khurasani with TTP leader Hakeemullah Mehsud. The attack, the video and now the DIA cables, however, corroborate what is known about the HQN’s overlap and links with the TTP and the al-Qaeda on the one hand and the ISI on the other. In their 2013 authoritative book, Fountainhead of Jihad: Haqqani Nexus, US scholars Vahid Brown and Don Rassler note, “The first organization to celebrate the attack publicly was al-Qaida, which noted in its media release that the ‘the appropriate media entity will publish his [the suicide bomber’s] story … in a proper production.’ This statement suggests that al-Qaida had prior knowledge of the attack and that the TTP was soon planning to release a video about the incident.”
Brown and Rassler add that the “Haqqani network leaders were one person removed from a network of Arab foreign fighters and media operators linked to the Jordanian suicide bomber, suggesting that Sirajuddin’s group was tied to the attack— or at least had knowledge of it”. Brown and Rassler, who most likely did not have these recently released cables available to them, conclude, “The Haqqani network was not only connected to this (al-Qaeda) group, but that it was working directly with it”.
More important than the money changing hands is the implication in the cables that the ISI was holding regular meetings with the HQN in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. But it is also crucial to know for how long these meetings went on and if they ever stopped.
In early 2011, Ibrahim Haqqani and Khalil Haqqani, Jalaluddin’s brothers, participated in a tribal jirga (council) in Islamabad to broker peace between the Shiite tribesmen of Kurram and the TTP. Pakistani government officials, including a sitting federal minister and three parliamentarians, are said to have participated in those meetings. Two HQN front men had then signed the eventual deal. The HQN running front businesses in Bhara Kahu, near Islamabad, and their front men maintaining residence in Rawalpindi has also been known.
But it was not until November 2013 when Nasiruddin Haqqani, the key HQN financier and son of Jalaluddin, was killed in Islamabad that the world was alerted to the fact that the terror group was not operating in some distant tribal territory, as Pakistan had claimed, but lurking right under the nose of the State. Nasiruddin was killed by unknown gunmen while out buying fresh bread from a local bakery. Curiously, his body was shipped to Waziristan and buried there within hours, which would have been impossible to do without the State’s knowledge and approval.
The Pakistani foreign office’s claim to have fought off various militant groups, including the HQN, does not hold water either. The Pakistani authorities have consistently claimed to have dislodged the HQN, along with an assortment of other terrorist groups, in the ongoing Zarb-e-Azb military operation in North Waziristan, which began in June 2014. There has been no independent confirmation, however, of whether a single HQN leader was captured or killed in the operations.
In July 2014, The Wall Street Journal had reported, “Both leaders and foot soldiers of the Haqqanis, an affiliate of the Afghan Taliban that has been based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan for decades, left the area just as the operation began on June 15, said locals and militants”. The Pakistani military has pursued this dubious and deadly policy of not going after the so-called ‘good jihadists’ – like the HQN and Lashkar-e-Taiba – who do not attack Pakistan; operations like Zarb-e-Azb have targeted only the ostensibly ‘bad jihadists’, like the TTP, which attacks the State, and even in that case many of the terrorist leaders and cadres simply melted away. Locals have reported that the HQN was relocated to the Kurram and Orakzai tribal agencies, adjoining the North Waziristan.
Al Qaeda backing
Pakistan has been more forthcoming about the Taliban proper than about its more lethal wing, the HQN. Speaking at the Council for Foreign Relations in the US last month, Sartaj Aziz, advisor to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on foreign affairs, conceded that Pakistan exercises some influence over the Afghan Taliban since “their leadership is in Pakistan, and they get some medical facilities, their families are here”. The HQN on its part continues to pledge allegiance to the Quetta-based Taliban and Sirajuddin is one of the designated deputies to current Taliban emir Mullah Akhtar Mansour.
Among the declassified documents is a DIA cable from September 24, 2009, which states that the al-Qaeda and the Taliban based in Quetta also bankroll the HQN’s operations. It notes: “A large majority of the Haqqani Network (HQN) funding comes from the Quetta, Pakistan-based Taliban leadership … HQN pays fighters who conduct successful attacks against coalition forces (CF) Afghan National Army (ANA) or Afghan National Police (ANP), with larger amounts paid for killing a coalition member. A key point in the dispersal and receiving of funds within the HQN is the videotaping of attacks”.
Brown and Rassler have noted: “Jalaluddin (Haqqani) was one of the key organizers of al-Qaida’s escape from Afghanistan after the toppling of the Taliban and the events at Tora Bora. Indeed, Ayman al-Zawahiri’s wife was taking refuge in a Haqqani-owned building on the Afghan side of the border when she was killed by a U.S. airstrike in late 2001”.
Abu Walid al-Masri, an al Qaeda traveler and Osama bin Laden’s confidant, has chronicled in detail the deep, longstanding links between the two terror groups. In his book, coauthored with Leah Farrall, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan, Mustafa Hamid also notes that notes that during the anti-Soviet jihad war of the 1980s, he and two al Qaeda founders, Abu Hafs al-Masri and Abu Ubaydah al-Banjshiri, trained in guerrilla warfare under Pakistani army Major Rashid Ahmad. Hamid writes that Major Ahmad also “trained the Haqqani brothers, Khalil and Ibrahim how to use the 122 mm howitzer, a Soviet weapon that they used in attacks against the enemy in Gardez (Afghanistan) in 1981”. Besides brokering the deal in Kurram with Khalil, Ibrahim also attended a meeting last year between the Afghan government delegation and the Taliban in the resort town of Murree, near Islamabad – a clear indication that the Zarb-e-Azb operation has not impacted Pakistan’s patronage of the HQN at all.
The bottom line is that while many world powers, including the US, stoked the fire in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Pakistan is the only country that has continued to do so after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The HQN started operating from North Waziristan in August 1975 as Pakistan’s proxy against Afghanistan well before the Soviets or the US set a foot in that region. The HQN’s last known headquarters were in Miram Shah in the North Waziristan, a stone’s throw away from the Pakistani military garrison. Pakistan claims that it has wiped that area clean but there is no evidence to show that the HQN men were touched at all.
The US had designated the HQN as a terrorist organisation in 2014 but tends to downplay its deadly significance in the ongoing war in Afghanistan. But it is not just the US men, women and interests that the HQN has attacked. The July 7, 2008 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul was carried out by the HQN. The US intelligence community had concluded that the ISI had helped plan and execute the assault, in which over 50 people, including the Indian defence attaché, had been killed.
Curiously, there is a continued policy paralysis in Washington, D.C. about calling out Pakistan on its loyal and lethal proxy that has consistently sabotaged the US efforts in Afghanistan. In a perverse way it might actually represent the “success” of Pakistan’s official narrative of supporting peace efforts in Afghanistan despite all the evidence pointing to the contrary. That the US continues to reward Pakistan’s patronage of jihadists will only lead to the vicious circle continuing uninterrupted. Kabul and Delhi, on the other hand, will have to live with consequences of such dangerously aberrant State behaviour in their immediate neighbourhood; they can speak up now or put up with the death and mayhem.
Mohammad Taqi is a former columnist for the Daily Times, Pakistan. Follow him on Twitter @mazdaki.