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Islamabad. When the US suffers a defeat in Afghanistan, it will need another scapegoat. I stated this nine years ago; I give you one guess which country is a made-to-order scapegoat here? Neither history, nor truth, nor realities are of any significance. All that matters is that there is a readymade scapegoat to be proven […]

The History of the Haqqanis

by SHAUKAT QADIR

Islamabad.

When the US suffers a defeat in Afghanistan, it will need another scapegoat. I stated this nine years ago; I give you one guess which country is a made-to-order scapegoat here? Neither history, nor truth, nor realities are of any significance. All that matters is that there is a readymade scapegoat to be proven guilty by media trial and convicted for its defeat. But Pakistan should be very proud. It has replaced the combined might of China and, the other erstwhile super-power; the USSR.

Is that what we are witnessing now?

Yes; and no. There are perhaps, other undercurrents at play. A scapegoat is definitely required so let’s just move on and view facts, before returning to conclusions and questions.

As a matter of fact, the period following Osama’s execution in Abbottabad has resulted, not only in increased attacks within Pakistan, but also in Kabul, Afghanistan, targeting the allied forces of occupation, so as to emphasize their vulnerability even within Kabul. Merely to list the prominent ones:

  • On May 18th a NATO military convoy came under attack on the Dar-ul-Aman Road in Kabul, close to the National Assembly building.
  • On June 28th, heavily armed individuals entered the Hotel Intercontinental Hotel, in the heart of Kabul.
  • On July 12th, Hamid Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali, was shot and killed by his own guard.
  • On September 12th, a dozen or so militants engaged the compound of the American Embassy and NATO HQ for about twenty hours, raining down rockets and heavy weapons fire, killing numerous local employees, before they were killed, though a few are believed to have escaped alive.
  • And on September 20th, Burhannuddin Rabbani, former President of Afghanistan and, since October last year, the head of the Afghan High Peace Council, was killed by a suicide bomber in his residence in Kabul.

While the US has accused the Haqqani Group of being responsible for these and other attacks, including the December 2009 attack on CIA’s Forward Operating Base Chapman which killed seven CIA personnel, I will confine myself to discussing the last two listed above, due to which US-Pak relations have plummeted to an all time low.

But before discussing these, a brief historical perspective of Jalaluddin Haqqani is essential

Born 1950 in the province of Paktia, he was 29 years old when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. At a time when traditional Pashtun tribal elders were appointing proxies to lead their tribe in the struggle for freedom, Jalal was just the right age, to lead his own tribe; he soon established himself as a formidable leader. According to Wikipedia, he was cultivated as a “unilateral” (which implies exclusive, not shared with the ISI) source by the CIA. US Congressman Charlie Wilson, responsible for aiding the Afghan Mujahideedn in the 1980s, referred to Jalaluddin as “goodness personified”.

When the Taliban began their expansion, after capturing Kandahar, Hamid Karzai was one of the Taliban Salaars (general)—that’s right, the current Afghan President was a Taliban and Jalaludin was fighting against the Taliban. Only when Kabul fell, in 1996, and Jalal realized that the ISI, backed by the CIA were intent on assisting the Taliban, did he join them.

After 1996, when Osama bin Laden entered Afghanistan, Jalal witnessed the metamorphosis in the Taliban, especially Mulla Muhammed Omer, under the influence of OBL, with dismay, but remained a silent spectator.

When the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and the Taliban disintegrated, Jalal went his own way. Interestingly, 1n 2002, the CIA contacted Jalal to join the post-Taliban setup in Kabul, but Jalal was not prepared to serve under Burhanuddin Rabbani as President and was also wary of being associated with the Tajik and Uzbek dominated “Northern Alliance” which had a stranglehold on US decision making at the time.

Jalal has been accused of having assisted OBL’s escape from his base in Khost to the caves of Tora Bora in 2001; which is possible. He might well have considered himself bound by the tradition of Pashtun hospitality to protect someone within his area. However, the inference drawn from this accusation; that he was/is an Al-Quaida affiliate is blatantly false. Jalal, and his son, Siraj, have been fiercely independent Afghans. Even when he joined the Taliban, he never referred to himself as a Talib.

Hoping that the US would pull out, Jalal waited till 2003/4 before renewing his struggle to free Afghanistan from another foreign invader; the US. In 2006 and again in 2007, Hamid Karzai’s emissaries contacted him, obviously with US blessings, offering him the assignment of Prime Minister, but by that time, Karzai had lost all credibility with the Afghan Pashtun and, not wishing to be tainted, Jalal refused.

In September 2008, he was targeted by an American drone strike, killing 10 others, but he had left. Since then, Jalal and Siraj have flitted across the Durand Line, the de facto Pak-Afghan border, to NWA in Pakistan. However, soon after May this year, the Haqqanis started shifting back to Afghanistan and, while no one can be certain where they are, they are, almost certainly, back in Afghanistan.

The attack on the US Embassy

On September 13th, the US accused the Haqqani Group of being responsible for the attack on its Embassy compound. This was soon followed by accusations of a direct link between the attackers and Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, ISI. Although no evidence of this link between the ISI and the September 12th attackers has been made public, the first hint of evidence provided by the US media was that the attackers were in possession of cartons/bottles of Pakistan-made juice, that’s right; Pakistani juice.

But, of course, that is far from being all. From the cell phones recovered from the dead bodies, US intelligence was able to discover that the attackers had been in constant communication with “their ISI handlers”. Now even a low-tech person like this author is aware that any teen aged hacker can make a cell phone sym, or a laptop, for that matter, talk any language and say anything that he wants it to. However, being low-tech, I am mystified by a rather basic question: having recovered the cell numbers that the attackers were in communication with, how did the CIA establish that these cell numbers belonged to “ISI handlers”?

Does the CIA have a list of all cell numbers of ISI personnel? Or did they call the number and the person who replied began with, “ISI handler here”? Now I have never been in the intelligence business; my only knowledge of how it works is because of years of teaching at the Command and Staff College and the NDU (War Wing). But even a novice “handling” such an operation would procure a fresh SIM under a pseudonym and ensure that he/she was miles distant from his/her base for the duration of the attack, so that even if the call could be traced back, it would not lead to the real location of the handler.

Like I said, I am low tech and therefore, perhaps there is technology available to identify the individual’s affiliation as well. I leave it to my readers to judge.

Being a soldier, however, I am mystified by something else; a subject I am more familiar with: basic security measures. The attackers, reportedly, occupied an under construction fourteen story building which overlooks the US Embassy and the adjacent NATO HQ; a building in close proximity of both. Even to the meanest military mind, it posed an obvious threat for just such an attack and American troops in Afghanistan are obsessed with security; as they should be, considering the number of times it has been breached. How is it possible that there were absolutely no security measures to prevent it?

No sentries posted at the foot of the building to prevent attackers climbing to the top? No electronic, sonar, or laser sensors that could give warning? Nothing, nothing at all, or am I seeing something that is invisible to the US military?

Were they incompetent or complicit?

Very interestingly, Sirajuddin Haqqani, Jalaluddin’s son, and now the effective operational commander of the group, rang up from an undisclosed location to speak to a Pakistani daily. Not only did he categorically state that he had been in Afghanistan for some months past (a fact I can testify to), but added that he no longer needed succor, even occasionally, in North Waziristan, NWA, Pakistan. That his following in Afghanistan had grown to the extent that he was safer in Afghanistan.

In response to a direct question, he refused to accept or deny responsibility for the attack; which, if he was responsible for it, is surprising. (A Taliban spokesman, however, did accept responsibility for the attack.) Most interesting was Siraj’s comment, which no one seems to have adverted to, that “we are in contact with the Taliban”, implying thereby that he was not a Taliban, but an “Afghan Freedom Fighter” against a foreign army of occupation.

That is the status that Haqqani; father and son, have always claimed: Afghan Freedom Fighters; and have now been elevated , by the US singling them out since 2009, as the only group that really posed a threat. In 2008, US estimated their group to consist of less than 5,000; today they are estimated to have a following of 15,000, and growing. ISAF’s initial report in 2009, under Stanley McChrystal, categorically advised that the US should be prepared to negotiate with all factions of the Taliban, except the Haqqani Group. I have never understood why this group was singled out. The only reasonable explanation that comes to mind is that perhaps, Mc Chrystal, probably incorrectly, since Mulla Omer is just as intractable, identified Jalal as the one man who would not compromise with a prolonged US presence in Afghanistan.

Whatever the reason, increasing number of Afghans who want to see the back of the Americans are flocking to the Haqqani banner.

Finally; another small question that worries me: if these, Haqqani Group attackers did indeed come from NWA to Kabul, the shortest route leads through the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Logar, a distance of approximately 170 kilometers, as the crow flies; but the actual route is much longer. Khost hosts an American airbase, the Combat Team of 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry division, Camp Clark, and Forward Operating Base, FOB, Salerno. I-279 Infantry, FOB Lightning, and I-10 Attack Aviation are located in Paktia. In Logar, adjacent to Kabul, are 4 Mountain Division, an Engineer Battalion, FOB Shank, and a Combat Team. All of them equipped with high-tech Force Protection Facilities, which includes every conceivable detection device available.

Knowing how the Afghan freedom fighters/Taliban operates, sneaking through in ones and twos, it is possible for them to sneak through this intricate web of US bases, but it certainly does not reflect too well on the state of security, intelligence, and extremely high-tech early warning systems that American forces possess: incompetent, incapable, or complicit?

The assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani

On September 20th, exactly a week after the daring attack on the US Embassy, Burhanuddin Rabbani, was killed by a suicide bomber. Two (supposed) emissaries of the Taliban, were brought by Muhammed Maasoom Stanikzai, also a member of the Afghan High Peace Council, and a trusted friend of Rabbani. Understandably, they would not be submitted to a body search. Presumably, however, knowing that Rabbani was treading on dangerous grounds and in danger, there would have been the usual security machines and sniffer dogs that can smell out explosive?

If these were there, why was there no warning? If they weren’t, why weren’t there any? Was there complicity or incompetence?

But please wait, it is more interesting when the perspective to this is added. February this year, Counterpunch carried an article by me titled, “Why did Joe Biden rush to Pakistan?” In this article, I explained how the so-called “Rabbani initiative” started to facilitate talks between all Afghan stakeholders, including Taliban, for the future of Afghanistan. That these talks would be exclusively between Afghans, excluding ALL non-Afghans, though negotiations with factions of those Taliban who count and the “Haqqani Group” would be facilitated by Pakistan. And that Rabbani got the nod of approval for this from Pakistan army’s chief.

In effect, therefore, Pakistan had a role to play, while the US did not.

It is also worth noting that Rabbani, a Tajik, had also adopted the Taliban stance that the Americans must pull out of Afghanistan, lock, stock, and barrel, and at the earliest possible.

Now there were Taliban who still found Rabbani unacceptable and were willing to kill him; he had a bloody history of targeting Pashtuns, along with other members of The Northern Alliance. Therefore, the very interesting response from Mulla Omer’s faction after his murder, “we cannot comment until we have carried out a thorough investigation.”

Clearly implying, that this was not an act on instructions from Mulla Omer but it could still have been carried out by ‘rogue’ elements from their ranks. If the reader refers to “Why Joe Biden rushed to Pakistan”, it will become obvious that Mulla Omer had accepted Rabbani as an interlocutor and, since Pakistan (GHQ) had given its blessings, Pakistan could not be interested in Rabbani’s elimination. And, if the Haqqani Group has any links with the ISI, neither would they.

A spokesman, who also identified himself as, Zabiullah Mujahid, also a name associated with Mulla Omer’s group, did call the Pakistani media to claim credit; which is actually meaningless, since all glory seekers would jump at the chance to claim credit for an ‘unclaimed hit’ on such a significant target. And who can identify a voice on the phone. What is more, this spokesman talked about an explosive-filled jacket, whereas it has been established by forensics, that the explosive was in his turban.

However, this murder was indeed carried out by mid level Taliban of Omer’s faction, the two individuals who were brought by Stanikzai, were acknowledged members of Omer’s group; but who let them in, but the real question is; why?

Conclusion

On the dangerous game of “Chicken” presently still ongoing, between the US and Pakistan, I will make a separate effort. Will someone blink; if so, who and when? But I had warned of this inevitability in another article carried by CounterPunch; “Has Pakistan declared its independence? This dog won’t come to heel”.

However, in this process of the final brinkmanship, in response to which Pakistan has picked up the gauntlet, the US has done Pakistan a great favor. I have frequently explained the logic behind the now irrelevant and immensely weakened Al-Quaida’s call to arms against Muslim states. It was based on the accusation that the leaders of Muslim majority countries have been bought, body and soul, by the US; and now the leaders are selling their nation to the US, identified as the Kafir (infidel) of all Kafirs — that same US which is at war with Muslims all over the world and backs Israel’s inhuman treatment of Palestinians. Therefore the leaders of these Muslim majority countries and their followers are also Kafirs; legitimate targets for all devout Muslims to kill.

However warped, that was the rationale and many Pakistanis, including the vast majority of non-militant ones genuinely believed this; and with good reason. Despite the fact that the Pakistani nation was unified in its determination to eradicate the scourge of terrorism within; it was still a nation lacking self respect and confidence in its leadership, due toPakistani subservience to the US.

By forcing Pakistan to defy it, to the extent of saying that Pakistan is, militarily, economically, and diplomatically prepared for all consequences, the US has restored Pakistani nation’s self respect and has united it against this common challenge. There is only one individual in this whole wide world capable of gifting us this miracle: the one and only; our dearly beloved uncle: Uncle Sam. I thank you Uncle, from the depths of my heart. That is one favor we, Pakistanis can never repay, and can never thank you for, sufficiently.

SHAUKAT QADIR is a retired brigadier and a former president of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute. He can be reached at shaukatq@gmail.com