New York: Pakistan’s powerful ISI had brought in Haqqani network’s chief Sirajuddin Haqqani as the deputy leader of the Taliban last year to protect him from the Americans, a media report said today.
The New York Times, quoting Afghan and American officials, said in a report that the “closer integration of the feared” Haqqani militant network into the leadership of the Taliban is “changing the flow of the Afghan insurgency this year, with the Haqqanis’ senior leader increasingly calling the shots in the Taliban’s offensive.
It quoted Afghanistan’s former intelligence chief Rahmatullah Nabil as saying that “the ISI brought Sirajuddin as the deputy to the Taliban to give him protection, so if the peace talks get serious, the Americans wouldn’t be able to say, ‘We will make peace with the leader but not with the deputy’.”
Nabil, who now runs a charity for wounded Afghan soldiers, said the merger had been helped by the fact that the Haqqanis were struggling financially, after their chief fund-raiser was gunned down near Islamabad in 2013, and that the Taliban needed Haqqani’s expertise in waging complex attacks.
Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, the chief spokesman for United States and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said that “Sirajuddin increasingly runs the day-to-day military operations for the Taliban, and, we believe, is likely involved in appointing shadow governors.” “The Haqqani network’s closer integration with the Taliban command also creates awkwardness for the Obama administration, and is raising tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan,” it said.
The report cited some senior Afghan officials as saying that the Pakistani military was “central” to bringing the Haqqanis more closely into the Taliban during the insurgency’s leadership councils last summer, which were held in Quetta.
The report said that the Haqqanis have “refined a signature brand” of urban terrorist attacks and cultivated a sophisticated international fund-raising network, factoring prominently in the United States military’s push to keep troops in Afghanistan.
It added that the group’s growing role in leading the entire insurgency in the war-torn country has raised concerns about an even deadlier year of fighting ahead, as hopes of peace talks have collapsed.
“The shift is also raising tensions with the Pakistani military, which American and Afghan officials accuse of sheltering the Haqqanis as a proxy group,” it said.
While the Haqqani network has always nominally been a branch of the Taliban, the report said the selection of Sirajuddin Haqqani to become the deputy leader of the Taliban during a leadership struggle last summer has turned out to be far from a “symbolic move” with Haqqani bringing to the Taliban a “more applied and lethal military expertise” than the supreme leader of the group, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour.
“Mullah Mansour has been consumed with a campaign to quell dissent against his leadership, and he is said to have limited his movements and access since a reported attack on his life in Quetta, Pakistan. Accordingly, Haqqani has stepped in, at times even running meetings of the Taliban leadership council,” the report said citing senior Afghan security officials.
A senior Taliban commander in southern Afghanistan said Haqqani had been in “constant contact” with Taliban field commanders in the south and the north of the country, in addition to his stronghold in the southeast.
Mawlawi Sardar Zadran, a former Haqqani commander in eastern Afghanistan, said Haqqani had a central role in appointing Taliban governors.
“No one can be appointed without his advice,” he said. “The influence of Sirajuddin in the Taliban ranks seems to be just growing.” The report quoted a Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, as confirming Haqqani’s elevated role, saying it was because of “his bravery”. “We can say that not only his military obligations but all his obligations have increased,” Mujahid said.
The State Department had officially listed the Haqqanis as a terrorist group in 2012, and there is a USD 5 million American bounty on Sirajuddin Haqqani.
The report added that the Afghan Taliban, as a group, have remained off that terrorist list, “partly to ease the prospect of starting peace talks between them and the Afghan government — a process that American officials have been centrally involved in.
“With the clear and public integration of the Haqqanis into the Taliban leadership over at least the past year, American officials have essentially been unable to dodge the claim that they are trying to broker talks with terrorists,” it said.