Some Taliban Are Just Too Hard to Turn by Jeffrey Dressler

Some Taliban Are Just Too Hard to Turn

by Jeffrey Dressler

A recently released report by New York University makes the case that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are ideologically distinct groups with different goals.1  The report, authored by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, argues that there is room to engage the Taliban on the issues of renouncing al-Qaeda and providing guarantees against the use of Afghanistan by international terrorists. Unfortunately, one of the major shortcomings of the report is the lumping of the Haqqani Network in with the “Taliban” and thus, failing to differentiate the Haqqani’s own relationship with al-Qaeda—one that isn’t likely to fracture.

The Taliban—more precisely defined as the Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) and the movement’s senior leadership—is distinct from the Haqqani Network, which operates primarily from the country’s southeastern provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika, all the way to Kabul.2  While public declarations of loyalty to Mullah Omar and the QST give the impression of a nation-wide, unified insurgency, the Haqqanis’ relationship to the old guard of the Taliban has always been rather uneasy. Today, the Haqqanis maintain an area of operations (southeastern Afghanistan), recruiting, and funding that is distinct from Mullah Omar and his cadre of Quetta Shura Taliban.3

What’s more, today’s Haqqani Network is much different than the 1980s resistance movement that was led by the influential tribal elder and feared Mujahideen fighter, Jalaluddin Haqqani. The network is currently led by his son, Siraj Haqqani, who is notably very different from his father. Siraj’s relationship with national and transnational terrorists is likely a product of his upbringing and close intermingling with hard-line radical extremists with world-wide agendas.  Rather than attempting to downplay his association with al-Qaeda, Siraj boldly does the exact opposite. In recent interviews, Siraj noted that his group’s relationship with al-Qaeda has never been stronger, further noting that foreign fighters (al-Qaeda and like-minded groups) are an integral part of his fighting force.4  A sizable portion of the region’s national and transnational terrorists are collocated with the Haqqanis in their North Waziristan sanctuary—including al-Qaeda, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and others. The Haqqanis’ ability to link these groups with operations inside of Afghanistan helps the latter participate in Jihad while allowing the former to achieve its goals of securing the southeast and facilitating its criminal enterprises.

In fact, Siraj’s relationship with al-Qaeda and the international recognition he receives on jihadist forums because of it means that the Haqqani Network and al-Qaeda are inextricably linked. Siraj Haqqani recently conducted a lengthy question and answer session with members of the Ansar al-Mujahideen Arabic Forum, a popular jihadist forum that promotes al-Qaeda’s internationalist agenda. In the interview, Siraj states, “We believe that America’s defeat in Afghanistan will break the severity of this Crusader campaign on the Islamic world, and will facilitate a road for us to liberate Al-Aqsa (an Islamic holy place in the Old City of Jerusalem), if Allah, the Almighty permits.”Recent reports indicate that al-Qaeda-directed and inspired attacks have been linked back to North Waziristan, the territorial stronghold of the Haqqanis.

The report correctly asserts that Ibrahim Haqqani, brother of Jalaluddin, traveled to Kabul in 2002 to engage in some sort of discussions about reconciliation. Though there had been reports of senior insurgent leaders and Afghan officials “talking,” hardly anyone seriously believes the insurgency is ready to throw in the towel. Since 2002, Karzai has reached out to the Haqqanis on two separate occasions - in 2007 and 2009 - without success. Karzai’s outreach was rejected by Siraj both times. Therefore, although there may have been Haqqani “feelers” in 2002, those events are hardly relevant today and are not ample evidence to suggest the Haqqanis are still interested in some sort of a deal with Kabul.

In fact, it was not until after 2002 that the Haqqanis revived their insurgent movement with the help of al-Qaeda and elements within the Pakistani security establishment. Throughout the following years the Haqqanis reconstituted their positions in Afghanistan’s southeast and were largely recognized as perhaps the mostly deadly insurgent group operating in Afghanistan. The Haqqani Network of 2011 can hardly be compared to the Haqqani of 2002.

The Haqqani Network is still a powerful and effective organization, despite significant progress against low and mid-level fighters in the southeast throughout the past year. Senior Haqqani leadership continues to enjoy sanctuary in Pakistan’s tribal areas where they direct the insurgency being waged inside Afghanistan. Pakistan still shows no signs of giving up their proxies in the Haqqanis. They have refused to take military action in North Waziristan, and have assisted the Haqqanis in establishing new sanctuary in neighboring Kurram Agency. For now, the best way to defeat the Haqqanis and their allies in al-Qaeda and like-minded affiliates is though military action, not negotiations, in Afghanistan.

Jeffrey Dressler is a research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, DC and recently authored the report, “The Haqqani Network: From Pakistan to Afghanistan

  1 Carlotta Gall, “N.Y.U. Report Casts Doubt on Taliban’s Ties With Al Qaeda, The New York Times, February 6, 2010
  2 Jeffrey Dressler, “The Haqqani Network: From Pakistan to Afghanistan,” Institute for the Study of War, October 2010
  3 Jeffrey Dressler, “The Haqqani Network: From Pakistan to Afghanistan,” Institute for the Study of War, October 2010
  4 Jeffrey Dressler, “The Afghan Insurgent Group that will not Negotiate,’ The Atlantic, October 25, 2010
  5 Ansar al-Mujahideen Forum Q&A with Sirajuddin Haqqani, NEFA Foundation, June 11, 2010