Haqqani and Hekmatyar are ‘absolutely salvageable’?

Jalaluddin Haqqani with his son Nasrudin. Click to view.

Robert Kaplan’s overview of Afghanistan in the April 2010 edition of The Atlantic makes some extremely controversial statements about reconciliation with the Haqqani Network and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami. According to the article, top ISAF officers and advisers believe that the Taliban have become “kinder” and “gentler,” while Jalaluddin Haqqani, the patriarch of the Haqqani Network, and Hekmatyar are considered “absolutely salvageable.” The full paragraph is on page five:

A deal with the insurgents constitutes another part of a withdrawal strategy. While becoming more organizationally formidable since 9/11, the Taliban have also modified their behavior. Mullah Omar has sent out a directive banning beheadings and unauthorized kidnappings as well as other forms of violent and criminal activity, according to both Al-Jazeera and ISAF officials. “In a way, we’re seeing a kinder, gentler Taliban,” said both Commander Eggers and General Flynn. Moreover, in working with the tribes in the spirit of Churchill’s Malakand Field Force, Flynn, the intelligence chief, went so far as to suggest that the insurgent leaders Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are both “absolutely salvageable.” “The HIG already have members in Karzai’s government, and it could evolve into a political party, even though Hekmatyar may be providing alQaeda leaders refuge in Kunar. Hekmatyar has reconcilable ambitions. As for the Haqqani network, I can tell you they are tired of fighting, but are not about to give up. They have lucrative business interests to protect: the road traffic from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to Central Asia.” Lamb, the former SAS commander, added: “Haqqani and Hekmatyar are pragmatists tied to the probability of outcomes. With all the talk of Islamic ideology, this is the land of the deal.”

Let’s leave the double-dealing and opportunistic Hekmatyar aside, as history has proven he’s out for what’s best for him. (By the way, how exactly does that make him reconcilable anyway, unless you believe that reconciliation is all about paying off an insurgent actor?). Also, Kaplan misrepresented the nature of HIG, as it is a splinter of the Hezb-i-Islami political party, which has already reconciled with the government.

The Haqqani Network is by far the most dangerous Taliban group in Afghanistan and is the most closely allied to al Qaeda. For all intents and purposes, the Haqqani Network is al Qaeda’s Afghan branch. Siraj Haqqani, Jalaluddin’s son, sits on al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis.

So what would have happened if in 2007, at the beginning of the surge, top US military commanders had claimed that the top leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq or Ansar al Sunnah (or Ansar al Islam, depending on the month) were “absolutely salvageable?” Would such a statement have inspired confidence that the military understood the nature of the Iraqi insurgency, or that the Iraqi surge was on the right path to success?

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Jaydev says:

    IF Europeans and US want to run from Afghanistan..why make pathetic excuses by planting stories in international media of “change of heart” by Taliban. Next we will hear US is ready to pay ziya tax for Al-Qaeda and recommend OBL for Nobel Peace Prize. The main thing is Arab extreme nationalists & Asian/African “convert” brethren have pure contempt for perfidy and cowardice. Islamist threat has to be put down heavily.We can see that Arabs other than Palestinians have admiration for Israeli courage though Israel acts at times as a bully. The concerns Israel showed for Gillad Shalit & dead bodies of soldiers have really touched Arabs. US is looked down upon for double-speak,hypocrisy and supporting autocratic dictators.

  • Guptan Veemboor says:

    Probably the source for the article could have been ISI Scrap-book.

  • Neo says:

    Both Are Unsalvageable
    If we want to win cooperation from the Pashtoon populous we must get far better at protecting the local community leaders that may be willing to cooperate with us. In order to do that the Taliban power structure is going to have to be methodically degraded on both sides of the border.
    Top leaders like Haqqani and Hekmatyar have far too much invested in the resistance to ever be of use. Haqqani has far too much ideologically invested to change course now. It would be very surprising if he were turned. Hekmatyar is a cynical old man who has been fighting his entire life. He isn’t going to change now.
    The problem is experts are being asked to find a way to come up with a “home run”

  • Cordell says:

    This is starting to sound all too familiar to what happened in Vietnam. Deem the enemy reconcilable, negotiate a peace treaty, withdraw U.S. troops without requiring the enemy forces to disarm and disband, then ignore all treaty violations when they move to take control of territory vacated by the U.S., slaughtering all locals who oppose them. The Taliban undoubtedly know the North Vietnamese playbook by heart. Will we ever learn it?

  • Civy says:

    Not sure where to post this, but this topic seems somewhat appropriate.
    Despite what shallow interpretations would have us concluding, this move, if done by the ISI, would put a damper on any negotiations with the Taliban for years, perhaps, decades. Was this the ISI’s way of marginalizing peace makers, and keeping a war that greatly benefits their organization and its power going?

  • David Eliezer says:

    If Hekmatyar is a double-crossing SOB, then he’ll double-cross the Talibs as well as us. If an application of a few tens of millions of dollars will keep all of the Talibs mercenaries on the sidelines, then we can destroy the Talib much more easily. And when we stop paying them, they will find that there’s no other side to cross over to. If it works, it would be at an incredibly cheap price, and might even save some of our soldiers lives.
    Haqqani needs to be hunted down and killed. And a lot of this talk IS an excuse to try to leave without finishing the job. But bribing away all their mercenaries would be a great strategy, if it would work. It plays to our natural advantage, as we have a LOT more money than they do. If it fails completely, we would have lost a tiny fraction of our current expenses, and chances are that it would work at least partially.

  • NS says:

    This does not seem very strange coming from the likes of Robert Kaplan – IMHO, its becoming increasingly clear that the US wants to leave AfPak ASAP and this pretty much reeks of desperation if it is true.

  • Mr T says:

    Paying mercenaries to stay on the sidelines would only funnel more money to the Taliban. We are already funding both sides of this war to some extent. Any money in these villages is taxed by the Taliban.
    They also take whatever they need from the locals, whether its food, lodging, equipment.I think some of the warlords take all the money and then disperse it themselves. That’s how power is retained.
    It’s a double edged sword.

  • omar says:

    IF this represents official policy then that would indeed indicate that the US is ready to pull out ASAP. Still, I dont think that translates into an automatic return to the status quo ante. Those who think ISI can maintain total discipline in all terrorist factions and carry off some kind of major strategic coup are mistaken. ISI will be lucky if they can maintain control within Pakistan. Afghanistan will have a renewed civil war, but victory for the taliban is not assured. In the long run, the hardcore jihadists are on the wrong side of history. IF the US is pulling out, it just means new powers will have to step in to sort out hardcore gangs and establish rules of behavior. I am personally appalled at the idea because I think the US had a reasonable chance of doing things with less bloodshed….other powers will be far more careless of civilian casualties and initial confusion will lead to much bloody pushing and pulling before Iran, China, India, Russia and Pakistan figure out how things will look…but its still not the same thing as a taliban victory. All this, of course, IF this represents actual policy. It may be that the US leadership has more brains than Robert Kaplan and this is just kite flying by Kaplan or part of some elaborate ruse…one hopes…

  • nobody says:

    Who cares if Hekmaytar is salvageable? Do you think the people of Afghanistan will stand for his return? What message would that send to anybody who ever dreamed that Afghanistan was leaving it’s warlord days behind them? What happens when Hekmaytar decides he is tired of being the minister of nothing and decides to overthrow the government? He’s done it before and will do it again. Does this mean we should deal with him for a short term gain? This is just nonsense from anybody who is serious about moving ahead in Afghanistan. The only reason he is talking is because he is afraid. We should press him till he is either behind bars or buried deep in the earth.
    The same goes for Haqqani. If and when we begin to turn the tide against extremist in Afghanistan they will want to talk but why would we? The day they want to talk is the day you know you are beating their sorry old saddles. Press them till they fall over dead.
    No deals with the devil.

  • Fuzair says:

    It’s obvious that the Afghan War is completely unwinnable for the US given the level of troop committment it is willing to put in and its inability to haul Karzai off to Pul-e-Chakri and put him out of its misery. Come on people, even the Pentagon admits that it really needs between 500 and 600 thousand security forces (lets say only half are US troops) to pacify the country and win in any meaningful sense of the term.
    Talking about an effective ANA force that is in even the 100,000+ range is a laugh, and NATO troop levels aren’t going to make up the difference–in any case, will any NATO troops actually fight? In a limited way the UK and the Canadians have shown that they will do some fighting if they absoutely have to but their force levels aren’t enough to make any real difference in Afghanistan.
    So obviously the Obama Administration has to figure out the fastest possible way to declare victory and leave, given the unholy mess it inherited from Bush.
    As soon as they leave, two different but related proxy wars will start: Pakistan vs. India and Saudi (sunni) vs. Iran (shia), with Russia and China sitting-in in a small way. The Pakistanis obviously have the weakest hand here (given their internal conflicts, chronic instability and collapsing economy) but they are too stupid/ideological (same difference) to figure this out.
    Each side will arm, train and pay its proxies and the latest umpteen-way Afghan civil war will start.


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