Pakistan’s “armed wing” and “strategic asset” in Afghanistan – Analysis – Eurasia Review

By Sudha Ramachandran *

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the 48-year-old leader of the Haqqani (HN) network, has benefited greatly from the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul. This was highlighted on September 7, when the Taliban unveiled their interim government and announced that Sirajuddin would be in charge of the powerful Interior Ministry. In this post, he will not only control Afghan intelligence agencies, police and courts, but will also appoint provincial governors. This will enable him to pack the provincial and local administrations with his faithful Indian express, September 14).

Relatives of Sirajuddin, including his paternal uncle Khalil-ur-Rahman Haqqani and other HN leaders such as Najibullah Haqqani, Abdul Haq Wasiq and Tajmir Jawad have also been given important ministries and positions. At least ten ministers, whose names appeared in the first list of ministers announced by the Taliban on September 7, are from Loya Paktia, which is the stronghold of the HN (First post, September 8).

Lively and acrimonious discussions preceded the formation of the interim Taliban cabinet. There was a serious confrontation between Sirajuddin and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. The latter led the Taliban negotiating team and made the deal with the United States that resulted in the exit of American troops from Afghanistan. He was about to lead the new Taliban government. Sirajuddin, however, not only succeeded in securing prime positions for himself and his supporters, but also succeeded in marginalizing Baradar and the relative moderates of the Taliban. He emerged victorious from this series of intra-Taliban power struggles (India time, September 18).

Over the past two decades, Sirajuddin’s bond with Pakistan has been strong. Pakistan facilitated its meteoric rise and in return Sirajuddin played the role of “sword arm” of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Will he continue to do so in his new post as interior minister in the Taliban government? Sirajuddin’s role vis-à-vis Pakistan may change in the years to come.

Jalaluddin’s aura

The eldest son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, a legendary Mujahedin fighter and founder of the HN, Sirajuddin was apparently uninterested in politics or jihad in his early years. He did not participate in the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s or the intra-Afghan civil wars of the 1990s. It was not until 2002 that he joined the insurgency against the coalition led by the United States. Strongly anti-American, he would have played an important role in convincing his father, a close ally of the CIA in the 1980s, to join the Taliban and al-Qaeda against the United States (Activist leadership monitor, March 2020).

Sirajuddin benefited enormously from being the son of Jalaluddin. He became the de facto leader of the HN around 2005 due to his father’s advanced age and health issues (Afghan Analyst Network, February 10, 2016). Additionally, he officially took the reins of HN when his father’s death was announced in 2018 (Tolo News, September 4, 2018). Jalaluddin commanded great respect among the Taliban and global jihadists and Sirajuddin’s stock in these circles has grown for this reason.

Terrorist label

Under Sirajuddin’s leadership, the HN has gained worldwide attention with several high-profile attacks, some of which left large numbers of civilian casualties. These included attacks on:

  • the Serena Hotel in Kabul in January 2008;
  • the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July 2008;
  • the United States Embassy, ​​International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Headquarters, Afghan Presidential Palace and Afghan National Directorate of Security Headquarters in Kabul in a single day in 2011;
  • the US consulate in Herat in 2013; and
  • the explosion of a truck bomb at a busy Kabul intersection in May 2017, which killed around 150 people.

Sirajuddin also cultivated close ties with al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Jaish-e-Mohammed. In September 2007, Sirajuddin was thus placed on the UN sanctions list for “participation in the financing, planning, facilitation, preparation or commission of acts or activities” in favor of these groups (United Nations Security Council, 2007). The US State Department designated him as a global terrorist in 2008 and declared the HN a foreign terrorist organization in 2012. Sirajuddin has a price on his head, with an initial bounty of $ 5 million offered by the Department of State. State for information leading to its capture. $ 10 million in 2014. As an Indian government official pointed out, “A terrorist tag is considered a ‘badge of honor’ among terrorists and being given it a few years after collecting weapons. weapons worked for Sirajuddin’s benefit, raising his stature as a jihadist. circles. [1]

Pakistan’s strategic asset

As Pakistan’s “armed wing” in Afghanistan during the insurgency, Sirajuddin carried out attacks on the orders of the ISI. The suicide bombing attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008 allegedly involved the ISI and was carried out by the HN, as were several of the main terrorist attacks targeting India and the United States (Reuters, September 22, 2011; Indian express, March 24, 2014). Such attacks on Indian interests and assets in Afghanistan were aimed at forcing India out of Afghanistan. With the Taliban in power and Sirajuddin in a key ministry in the Taliban government, Indian officials believe “it will function as Pakistan’s strategic asset in Afghanistan, not only to expand Pakistan’s interests in the country, but also to secure that India’s influence here be reduced. substantially.” [2]

In the past, Sirajuddin has proven useful to the Pakistani military in negotiating peace deals with warring sectarian militias and with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). With the resurgence of the TTP in recent months and a sharp increase in its attacks in Pakistan, the ISI could once again rely on Sirajuddin to restrain the organization (Terrorism Monitor, March 26).

The balance

The question is whether Sirajuddin will now collaborate with the ISI. After all, Sirajuddin, the HN and the Taliban are no longer as dependent on Pakistan as they were as insurgents in need of bases in Pakistan after 9/11. On top of that, the TTP provides Sirajuddin with leverage over Pakistan, which he may not be willing to give up.

At the same time, it is Pakistan and the ISI that give Sirajuddin a vital advantage in the intra-Taliban power struggle, which is not expected to abate in the near future. Therefore, Sirajuddin can be expected to play a cautious balance vis-à-vis Pakistan. He can be expected to ensure that India’s influence in Afghanistan is cut off. However, on the issue of the TTP, it is likely that it will neither challenge nor fully obey Islamabad’s demands.

The extension of diplomatic recognition to a Taliban government has always been expected to pose many problems for many countries. This is all the more true with Sirajuddin backed by the ISI and winning the intra-Taliban power struggle. As the new Afghan Minister of the Interior, Sirajuddin will consolidate his power in Afghanistan. This will make it difficult, if not impossible, for some countries, especially India, to diplomatically recognize the Taliban.

* About the author: Dr Sudha Ramachandran is a freelance researcher and journalist based in Bangalore, India. She has written extensively on peace and conflict in South Asia, political and security issues for The Diplomat, Asia Times and Geopolitics.

Source: This article was published by the Jamestown Foundation at Militant Leadership Monitor Volume: 12 Number: 9


[1] Interview with author, Indian government official based in New Delhi, September 22.

[2] Same.

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