"The Afghan Insurgent Group That Will Not Negotiate" (The Atlantic)


The Afghan Insurgent Group That Will Not Negotiate 

Jeffrey Dressler, The Atlantic

October 25, 2010

The recent clamoring over Afghan insurgents' decision to engage in "talks" with the Afghan government has obscured some rather important distinctions between who is talking and what the prospects are for those talks. Two of Afghanistan's most prominent insurgent groups, the Quetta Shura Taliban and the Haqqani network are both said to be participating in these "talks." But the two groups are quite distinct, with different objectives, ideological sentiments and partnerships with radical Islamic terrorists. These distinctions make any possible deal with the Haqqanis a particularly dubious proposition.

While it is true that the Taliban and the Haqqani network share the common objective of forcing the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition forces from Afghanistan and favor the return of a hardline Islamic government, that is about where their commonalities end. Perhaps the most important difference is their relationship with al-Qaeda. The Taliban has many ties to the terrorist group, but it is the Haqqanis that shelter al-Qaeda's de facto headquarters in North Waziristan.

The Haqqani network's operations are distinct from those of the Taliban in several key ways. Their command and control, support infrastructure, recruiting and funding mechanisms are all largely separate. They operate out of Pakistan's North Waziristan Agency, just miles away from Afghanistan's southeastern border. Unlike the Taliban, a national umbrella insurgent movement, the Haqqanis influence is mostly limited to the southeast of the country, the same area from which they fought the Soviet Army in the 1980s. Although the network is currently led by the sons of the infamous Mujahideen commander Jallaludin Haqqani, who distinguished himself as a particularly effective anti-Soviet Mujahideen commander known for his high body counts, they remain a potent force. (The elder Haqqani was once described as "goodness personified" by former Texas congressman Charlie Wilson,) The Haqqanis have been responsible for the majority of Kabul's most sophisticated suicide attacks as well as the December 2009 suicide bombing of a CIA base in southeastern Afghanistan, the deadliest attack suffered by the CIA since the 1983 Beirut embassy bombing.

Unlike the Taliban, the Haqqanis are neither interested in nor capable of governing the country as a whole. This disinterest in national governance, combined with the network's close association with al-Qaeda, makes a grand bargain with senior Haqqani leadership an unacceptable proposition. Any deal that met the Haqqanis' demands would likely require recognizing q Haqqani-dominated mini-state within Afghan borders, which could, once again, become a safe harbor for al-Qaeda and many other international terrorists. In other words, it could roll an entire region of Afghanistan right back to Sept. 10, 2001. Clearly, that is something the U.S. simply cannot tolerate.

The Haqqani's close relationship with al-Qaeda dates back to the mid-1980s. In 1986, prior to founding al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden was tapped by Pakistan's military intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), to build a cave complex in Haqqani-controlled territory in the southeast to train Arab volunteers to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October of 2001, it was the Haqqanis' turn to come to the aid of al-Qaeda, helping their fighters elude U.S. forces in the Tora Bora mountains. According to the current head of the Haqqani network, Sirraj Haqqani, his network's cooperation with al-Qaeda is "at its highest limit." Indeed, recent reports emanating out of the Haqqani stronghold in North Waziristan confirms Siraj's claims.

Al-Qaeda shelters, trains, and plans attacks under the protection of the Haqqani network in North Waziristan. Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen recently described the area as "the epicenter of terrorism ... where al-Qaeda lives." In the past four months alone, drone strikes in North Waziristan have killed al-Qaeda's number three operative, Mustafa al-Yazid, and his replacement, Sheikh Fateh al Masri.

The only thing more unlikely than a negotiated settlement with the Haqqanis is the prospect of the group breaking ties with al-Qaeda.

To read the full opinion editorial, please visit The Atlantic.