Pakistan running Taliban-ruled Afghanistan government through Haqqani Network

New Delhi: As soon as the Taliban took over Kabul on August 15, a new security chief was appointed by the outfit to control the city and its chaotic airport. The new security chief Khalil-ul-Rehman Haqqani a prominent commander of the Haqqani Network (HQN), soon took to the streets of Kabul along with his fighters and seized the entry and exit points to the Kabul airport. 

This was the very first indication of the influence that the HQN was going to play in post-US withdrawal from Afghanistan. A similar indication was reflected when another top leader, Anas Haqqani met Dr. Abdullah Abdullah to accelerate the process of transferring powers to the Taliban. Currently, he has been entitled with the responsibility of negotiating with the stakeholders for the formation of Taliban led government in the country.

Besides, Abdul Aziz Abbasin, who happens to be the son of HQN founder Jalaluddin Haqqani, is managing the supplies of weapons and ammunition to prepare for a continued battle with the ‘Panjshir Resistance’ forces and to silence the dissenting groups across Afghanistan. 

He has been discharging the duties of procurements since the Taliban began preparing for an all-out war after signing the peace deal in February 2020. 

Previously, a UN Security Council Report in May 2020 had highlighted: “Abdul Aziz Abbasin, a senior member of the Haqqani Network and brother of Taliban deputy Sirajuddin Haqqani, ordered increased supplies of ammunition and explosive materials for Taliban forces in Ghazni, Wardak, Paktiya and Parwan Provinces.”

Similarly, another prominent militant of the outfit, Haji Mali Khan, is organizing funds for the outfit in continuation of the duty he has been discharging since his young days. It is important to note that he is one of the brothers of Jalaluddin Haqqani and was released in November 2019 along with other two prominent members of Haqqani network – Anas Haqqani and Abdul Rashid in a prisoner swap deal. 

However, above all, it is Sirajuddin Haqqani – the deputy leader of the Taliban, who is at the centre stage of the Taliban government formation and is also commanding Taliban’s military operations in the country. According to observers, it was Sirajuddin’s decision to appoint Abdul Qayyum Zakir as the new Acting Defence Minister of the country. 

A prominent member of the Quetta Shura and the former military chief of the Taliban, Zakir finds a place in the list of close confidantes of Sirajuddin. Previously, he was lodged at the US jail in Guantanamo Bay and released in 2007 and began controlling the narcotic hub of Helmand province, which became a major source of funding for the HQN. 

These developments underline the status of HQN in Afghanistan in the current settings as the outfit appears to have the control of both – civil administration as well as the military command.

It is noteworthy that the HQN is based out of North Waziristan in Pakistan and has been operating along the Durand Line since the 1980s. The outfit had also made arrangements for the escape and relocation for Taliban leaders in Pakistan after attacks by the US led coalition post 2001. According to a report of the Stanford University on the Haqqani Network, the group orchestrated the escape of Osama Bin Laden from Tora Bora in 2001.

The group has been used by the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI as a tool to fulfill its geopolitical and strategic needs since the anti-Soviet war era and global watchdogs like The Atlantic Council have termed HQN as “a proxy of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI.”

Moreover, the ISI has also used the organization to attack Indian infrastructure and sympathizers in Afghanistan. The findings of the mentioned Stanford University report in this regard is noteworthy in which it stated, “For its part, Pakistan denies sponsoring Islamist militant proxies, but Western and Afghan officials say Islamabad also sponsors terrorism, in order to undermine Afghanistan and India. In 2011, Adm. Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called HN a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).”

A geopolitical expert whom we spoke to argued that Pakistan has played smartly since past four decades as through the HQN, it has not only jeopardized Afghan and Indian interests, but has also utilized the money funded by the US itself to attack the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan and at the same time has ensured deniability. 

With HQN at the helm of affairs, the ISI is ensuring that Taliban commanders loyal to it occupy the top echelons of the government as well as the military. Consequently, it is expected that the Afghan government would now be not run from Kabul, but from Islamabad! By commanding a favorable deal in Doha through its loyalists like Anas Haqqani and bringing the likes of Zalmay Khalilzad to its cabal, Pakistan now plans to use the soil of Afghanistan as a base for nurturing Pakistan sponsored terrorist outfits and training its mercenaries. 

Moreover, these developments also point out that the world could see two heads of the government in Afghanistan – Mullah Ghani Baradar as the ‘nominal head’ and Sirajuddin Haqqani as the ‘real head. According to Afghan media reports, besides several newly appointed ministers, a majority of Talibani Governors of provinces and front commanders are from the inner coterie of Sirajuddin Haqqani. 

Sirajuddin is a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist’ by the US Department of State, he carries a bounty of $10 millions on his head and has commanded several attacks on US citizens in Afghanistan as well as has orchestrated an assassination attempt in April 2008 on the then president Hamid Karzai. A lethal commander, he resorted to more violent tactics after taking over the leadership of the organization. During his tenure as the deputy head of Taliban, he inducted new tactics including better improvised death squads, public executions, mass beheadings, and targeted assassinations. Moreover, he has been quite vocal about his and HQN’s association with Al-Qaida, which according to him, was “at its highest limits” and dated it back to the mid-1980’s.

Amongst other possible repercussions, Pakistan might start thinking beyond Afghanistan and plan to utilize other international terrorist outfits like Al-Qaeda, which enjoys a strong and long association with the HQN. Besides the acknowledgement by Sirajuddin Haqqani, Khalil-ur-Rahman Haqqani has also been linked to the Al-Qaeda military operations and as early as in 2002, had deployed his fighters in Paktia province to rejuvenate the Al-Qaida network. 

Another major apprehension stems from the concerns of Afghan citizens who believe that Afghanistan coming under the direct control of Sirajuddin Haqqani could be more brutal in repressing the opposition to Taliban’s regime as he is quite unpopular in the country, especially in the southeastern region, and is seen as a highly radicalized and brutal militant.

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