Page 1 of 2 Haqqani network sours Pakistan-US ties
By Amir Mir
ISLAMABAD - The gradually warming Pakistan-United States ties have suddenly
turned sour in the aftermath of the September 13 brazen terrorist attack on the
US Embassy in Kabul, which senior American military and government officials
have squarely blamed on the North Waziristan-based Haqqani militant network,
led by Sirajuddin Haqqani.
As Washington and Islamabad struggle to redefine their relationship in the
aftermath of a series of testing developments this year, beginning with the
January 27 arrest of an undercover US Central Intelligence Agency agent from
Lahore, followed by the May 2 killing of the fugitive al-Qaeda chief Osama bin
Laden in a US military raid in Abbottabad, the Kabul attack has cast
serious doubts on the American claims of progress in the "war against terror".
This has prompted US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to warn that the United
States could do everything it could to defend American forces from the
Pakistan-based Haqqani militants staging attacks in Afghanistan, including
operations inside Pakistan.
Panetta's warning was followed by Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's
decision to cancel his planned trip to the United States that was scheduled for
On the face of it, he called off the visit because "he personally wanted to
supervise ongoing relief efforts in flood-hit areas of Sindh province".
However, there are clear indications that strained relations between the two
countries led to the move; he was to address a United Nations General Assembly
session in New York.
The main reason for calling off the visit was US President Barack Obama's
refusal to meet Gilani on the sidelines of the UN session. The Pakistan Embassy
in Washington had tried hard to arrange a meeting. Panetta's fulminations too
are said to have persuaded Gilani that this was not the best time to go.
A few hours after calling off his US visit, Gilani said on September 17: "Now
it's time that the United States should do more." This was in response to the
US's lack of satisfaction with efforts by Pakistan in their fight against the
Taliban and their demand that his government should do more. Gilani said
Pakistan had already contributed enormously to the fight against terrorism and
stressed that the US should "do more" instead.
The US Embassy assault in Kabul that kept the heavily guarded city center under
siege for almost 20 hours and literally turned it into a battle zone was the
longest sustained incident in the capital since the launching of the war
against the Taliban a decade ago in October 2001.
Fifteen people were killed and six foreign troops wounded in the assault. The
Taliban attackers managed to get hold of a high-rise building site that towers
over the US Embassy and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters
in Kabul, firing rockets and spraying gunfire well inside the highly-secured
diplomatic zone, which by and large houses foreign embassies and military
The third major terrorist attack in Kabul by the Taliban since June 2011 raises
questions about the ability of the Afghan security forces that are supposed to
take over responsibility from foreign troops. The timing of the Kabul attack
suggests that it was also aimed at improving the bargaining position of the
Afghan Taliban led by their amir, Mullah Omar. The attack also raises
questions about secret reconciliation efforts being made by the Americans to
strike a deal with the Afghan Taliban, who have already claimed responsibility
for the September 13 US Embassy assault.
While blaming the Haqqani network - which is loosely associated with the Afghan
Taliban - for the assault, Afghan Interior Minister Bismillah Mohmmadi claimed
that mobile telephones used by the six attackers who fought off Western and
Afghan forces for almost a full day showed they were in touch with people
outside the country.
"The evidence we have received shows they were communicating and were led from
outside Afghanistan," said Mohmmadi in a video released to journalists by his
ministry. He did not identify the country involved, but US ambassador Ryan
Crocker and the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John R Allen,
said they believed the attack was launched by the Pakistan-based Haqqani
Earlier, Afghanistan's National Intelligence Directorate (NDS) had claimed
following the June 28 terrorist attack targeting the Intercontinental Hotel in
Kabul that it was also carried out by militants of the Haqqani network with the
help of their handlers in Pakistan.
As per the NDS claim, in an intercepted phone call, Badruddin Haqqani, a top
leader of the terror network, was heard directing one of the fighters and
laughing during the hotel attack that killed 11 civilians and two policemen as
well as nine members of the attacking team. Badruddin is an operational
commander in the Haqqani network who also sits on the Taliban's Miram Shah shura
Named after its founding leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, the Haqqani network is an
Afghan militant group that is based out of North Waziristan in the Federally
Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.
The network has been active mainly in the east of Afghanistan in Paktia,
Paktika, Khost, Ghazni Wardak and even Kabul provinces.
Although it is a separate militant group, it pledges allegiance to Mullah Omar
and has a history of links to the Pakistani intelligence establishment since
the days of the Afghan jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s.
Jalaluddin Haqqani, now in his sixties, is a former anti-Soviet resistance
commander known for his ruthless effectiveness as a fighter. His ties to
Pakistan, and his base in the Miram Shah area of North Waziristan, go as far
back as his exile during the government of Sardar Daud in the early 1970s.
He was initially among the many militant leaders who formed the Hizb-e-Islami.
But when the Hizb fractured in the late 1970s, Haqqani followed Maulvi Yunis
Khalis rather than Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and became one of the most important
commanders in the Hizb-e Islami (Khalis), or HIK.
A battle-tested leader
When Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan in 1979, like many Afghan leaders,
Jalaluddin took his family and fighters to Pakistan and settled in North
Waziristan, which borders his native Khost province.
He subsequently received significant support from the American Central
Intelligence Agency and from the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)
and built up a sizable and competent anti-Soviet militia force by the
The current ties between the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban date back
to the days of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan led by Mullah Omar. The
Taliban seized power in 1996 and were ousted by the US-led invasion in late
As Jalaluddin has aged, his elder son Sirajuddin has taken over the
responsibility of carrying out cross-border operations in Afghanistan.
Sirajuddin has eclipsed his father in power and influence and he rivals more
senior leaders for leadership of the Taliban. In many ways, he is smarter and
more respected than far more senior Taliban leaders.
According to US military commanders, the Haqqani network is the most resilient
in Afghanistan and one of the biggest threats to the US-led forces.
Following WikiLeaks' July 2010 publication of 75,000 classified documents, it
was revealed that Sirajuddin Haqqani was in tier one of the International
Security Assistance Force's Joint Prioritized Effects List - its "kill or
Therefore, the Americans have targeted the Haqqani network in North Waziristan
extensively in recent years, especially since a suicide bomber killed seven
senior CIA officers in the Khost area of Afghanistan on December 31, 2009.
While the Americans treat the Haqqani network as an enemy, there are those in
the Pakistani establishment who still consider it as a strategic asset and a
possible ally in Afghanistan after the exit of US-led forces.
But the embassy attack in Kabul has deeply annoyed the Americans, prompting key
US military officials to once again set off a volley of anti-Pakistan
statements by publicly accusing Islamabad of "sleeping with the enemy".
After the sweet words that followed the recent arrest of senior al-Qaeda leader
Younis al-Mauritania from Pakistan, senior American officials have turned their
guns on Pakistan and warned that the US would "do everything it can" to defend
American forces from Haqqani militants.
Clearly embarrassed by the Taliban attack, Panetta, a former CIA chief, accused
Pakistan on September 15 of not curtailing the Haqqani network. He said his
country's response would show Pakistan that the US meant business. "Time and
again we have urged the Pakistanis to exercise their influence over these kinds
of attacks from the Haqqanis. And we have made very little progress in that
area. I think the message the Pakistanis need to know is: we are going to do
everything we can to defend our forces."
Panetta said he was concerned about the Haqqanis' ability to attack American
troops and then escape back into what is a safe haven in Pakistan, "which is
Panetta has long pressed Islamabad to go after the Haqqanis. "I'm not going to
talk about how we're going to respond. I will just let you know that we are not
going to allow these kinds of attacks to go on. These kinds of attacks -
sporadic attacks and assassination attempts - are more a reflection of the fact
that they are losing their ability to be able to attack our forces on a broader
scale." Asked whether the Kabul attack raised concerns about the Afghans'
ability to take over their own security, Panetta said that overall their
response was good.