ISI’s Nexus with the Haqqani Network

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Written by Rajeev Sharma, New Dehli Correspondent

If there is one terror outfit that America fears the most today, it is not al Qaida or Taliban; it is the Haqqani network. Founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a battle-hardened jihadi active for last thirty years, it is now under the operational control of his son Sirajuddin who is more rabidly fundamentalist and close to al Qaida and Taliban ideology than Jalaluddin. The father is now seen to be the “spiritual” head of the network.

Western experts put the strength of its armed cadres at 12,000 men, an impressive figure considering that these highly trained and motivated cadres are skilled in such diverse fields as bomb-making, guerilla fighting, and planning and executing terror attacks. Some of the cadres are even adept at suicide bombing. Though the Haqqani network initially started as one of the multiple terror streams under the over-arching umbrella of Taliban, it has been maintaining its individual identity for about a decade now. Since 2002, the Haqqanis have been expanding and reconstituting their operations, active mainly in the east of Afghanistan — in Paktia, Paktika, Khost, Ghazni Wardak, and even Kabul provinces. They have assumed menacing proportions against the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan since 2008.

The biggest role that the Haqqani network has been performing for the last three decades is as an enabler for other like-minded jihadi outfits. It has long been a vital cog in the wheel for Pakistan as well as the al Qaida and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban. The Pakistani state has been dependent on the Haqqani network for gaining access to the TTP leadership and managing the conundrum of multiple jihadi outfits in the FATA region of Pakistan. Whenever Pakistan military feels the need to launch terror attacks against Indian interests in Afghanistan, the Haqqani network has been the one-stop shop for Rawalpindi. The bloodiest attack on Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008, in which 53 people including the Indian Defence Attache, were killed, was executed by the Haqqani network. The group was responsible for the audacious attack on the US embassy in Kabul in September 2011.

A September 21, 2011 memo from Brandon Greene to Senator Mark Kirk entitled “Relationship between the Haqqani network and Pakistan Inter Services Intelligence,” better known as the Kirk Memo, explains in great details the militant-military cabal in Pakistan. As the title of the Kirk Memo graphically suggests, it blows the lid of nexus between the Haqqani network and the ISI. The following paragraph of the Kirk Memo sums up the situation: “The Haqqani network and its attacks against U.S., Afghan, and allied interests continue to receive support from the ISI in support of this goal. The ISI protects and finances Haqqani’s activities, and provides it sanctuary in Haqqani’s hometown of Miram Shah in North Waziristan. The ISI also provides the Haqqani network advance warning of drone attacks against its leadership and operations in North Waziristan, most recently against its bomb-making facilities in Western Pakistan. The Haqqani network’s expansion into Kurram Agency, a strategic Pakistani province only 90 kilometers from Kabul and beyond the scope of a majority of U.S. drone activities, has gone unchecked by the Pakistani government. There is some evidence to suggest that Pakistani military intervention in Kurram Agency has actually aided the expansion and stabilization of a sanctuary for Haqqani operations. In exchange for this active support, the Haqqani network serves as a proxy force and trusted mediator for Pakistani interests in Afghanistan, and within Pakistan itself. The ISI relies heavily on Haqqani to direct and communicate with Pakistani terrorist organizations such as Lashkar e-Taiba and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, engaged in terrorist attacks against Indian interests in Kashmir and across the subcontinent.”

The Americans have been pressing Pakistan to launch military strikes at the Haqqani network, but Pakistan’s military leadership has bluntly refused to oblige, arguing that thousands of its troops are already fighting a grim battle against the Pakistan Taliban and their cohorts in the lawless tribal regions along the Afghanistan border. The American shrillness with Pakistan on the Haqqanis has been increasing lately. The then-Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen, in his recent testimony before the US Congress, had described the Haqqani network as a “veritable arm” of the ISI and said the outfit was “almost certainly behind several recent high-profile attacks in Afghanistan.”

The U.S. pressure on Pakistan with regard to the Haqqanis was increased phenomenally when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Pakistan in October 2011. She warned Pakistan at her joint press conference with her Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar in Islamabad on October 21, 2011 that Pakistan cannot keep snakes in its backyard. Clinton pushed the envelope further by suggesting that Pakistan government should force the Haqqanis into peace talks; she even disclosed that the U.S. had started direct talks with the Haqqani network and already held one round of exploratory talks with them several months ago “We think for a variety of reasons that Pakistan has the capacity to encourage, to push, to squeeze … terrorists including the Haqqanis and the Afghan Taliban … to engage in the Afghan peace process. So that is what we are looking for,” she said in Islamabad.

Clinton was even harsher in Kabul, before she emplaned for Islamabad, when she said Washington would act unilaterally if necessary to attack terror groups that have routinely been using Pakistani territory for their operations. Note her terse quotable quotes: “This is a time for clarity,” and “There’s no place to go any longer,” – both remarks obviously aimed at the Pakistani leadership. The tough Clinton-speak makes one thing very clear: the American patience with Pakistan is once again wearing thin a decade after and the trouble-making baby is back to his old ways, which is unacceptable to Washington.

However, there is little to suggest that the Pakistani leadership, particularly the military top brass, will have a change of heart on the Haqqanis. At least not until Washington takes some drastic steps. The next step will have to come from the U.S. The ball is in the Americans’ court.

Photo: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, The Guardian