Explained | The Haqqani Network and their Pak link

Explained | The Haqqani Network: Who are they? What's their Pakistan connection?

In Afghanistan, they are seen as ruthless fighters and claimed responsibility for some of the deadliest suicide and guerilla attacks

Jalaluddin Haqqani (R), the Taliban's Minister for Tribal Affairs, points to a map of Afghanistan during a visit to Islamabad, Pakistan, October 19, 2001, as his son Naziruddin (L) looks on. Credit: Reuters File Photo

The Haqqani Network since its inception has gone under the radar often and is considered a part of the Taliban umbrella and just another terror group. However, security and counter-terrorism experts consider the Haqqani Network the backbone of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But, who are they? What do they do?

Their role in Afghanistan is what makes them a concern for the rest of the world. To understand their role in the world today, it is important to know how it was formed. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Jalaluddin Haqqani formed a group of people who believed in jihad to force the Soviets out of the nation.

The United States who backed groups resisting Soviet occupation considered Jalaluddin key when it came to funnelling arms and money into Afghanistan. Jalaluddin is said to have grown close to Osama bin Laden in the build-up to the first Taliban government in 1996. Jalaluddin became a minister in the government in 1996 too. He held the position of Minister of Tribal Affairs till 2001 when the US invaded Afghanistan.

Jalaluddin’s son Sirajuddin Haqqani now heads the network and is considered to have very amicable relations with Taliban chief Haibatullah Akhundzada and in fact has been a deputy emir of the Taliban since 2015. Sirajuddin’s brother Anas who was sentenced to death by the former Afghan government is now one of the top leaders of the Taliban umbrella organisation and he also met with former president Hamid Karzai a few days ago to discuss a governing arrangement.

According to many security researchers and analysts, The Haqqani Network is known to have very close relations with the Pakistani security establishment and to serve Pakistan’s interests in their northern regions, border regions, Afghanistan’s south and eastern regions as well. The Haqqani Network is said to serve as a protective barrier for Pakistan against northern Afghan, American and Indian influence.

Security researcher Jeffrey Dressler in a study from 2012 said, “The Haqqanis execute spectacular attacks in Kabul in order to generate a disproportionate psychological and propaganda effect.” Dressler also wrote, “The group also has ties to al-Qaeda and its affiliates. The Haqqanis have never given any indication that breaking ties with al-Qaeda was either possible or in their interests.”

Back when the network was fighting the Soviets, they made sure to control the Khost and Urgun regions and retook those cities from the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) and the Soviets. The Khost region is crucial for the network as it houses a key route between Pakistan and Afghanistan and the group used it to control the flow of arms in and out of the region.

After the American invasion of Afghanistan, the group relocated to North Waziristan in Pakistan and several al-Qaeda members were said to have been sheltered by the group in the region. Pakistani and American officials are said to have spoken to Jalaluddin during this time and asked him to turn on the Taliban, but he refused to do so. US and NATO forces taking fire from the group retaliated and pushed the group towards the south and closer to Pakistani territory where it was situated to fight coalition forces. American officials also have accused Pakistan and its security establishment of collaborating with the network and sheltering them.

In 2012, The US designated the Haqqani Network as being a Foreign Terrorist Organisation after it attacked the US military, civilians, NATO forces and due to its ties with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Key members of the group have also been individually designated.

Also Read | The Haqqani network: Afghanistan's most feared militants

Whilst the Haqqani Network is viewed by the West as a Taliban and al-Qaeda ally and a threat to Western interests, inside the country, they are seen as ruthless fighters and claimed responsibility for some of the deadliest suicide and guerilla attacks. In September 2011, ten years after the 9/11 attacks, the Haqqani Network was accused of carrying out a day-long attack on high-value targets in Kabul such as the US Embassy, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters, the Afghan presidential palace, among others.

The Taliban’s special forces unit named Badri 313 is said to have trained under the Haqqani Network in the past giving them an edge in terms of capabilities in advanced warfare.

US Admiral Mike Mullen described them as a "veritable arm" of Islamabad's intelligence in 2011. However, Pakistan has always denied any such allegations.

“The Taliban, Haqqani network, and al-Qaeda function as a triumvirate, and one that is very much part of the same militant network, they work together hand-in-glove,” said Colin P. Clarke, a counter-terrorism analyst at the Soufan Group, a security consulting firm based in New York.

Some analysts believe the Khorasan province of ISIS (South Asian unit of the terror group) may have links to the Haqqani Network. Indeed, Shahab al-Muhajir, the ISIS leader, is reported to have been a former midlevel Haqqani commander before defecting.

(With inputs from agencies)

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