Reports from Afghanistan indicate that the president of Afghanistan, the head of Pakistan’s military intelligence service, and Pakistan’s army chief all met recently with the al Qaeda-linked leader of the Haqqani Network, one of the most dangerous terror groups operating in the country.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai; General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan’ top military leader; and Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the chief of Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, are reported to have met with Sirajuddin Haqqani earlier this week to negotiate an end to the insurgency, according to Al Jazeera. The location of the purported meeting was not disclosed.
A spokesman for President Karzai denied the reported meeting with Siraj, and Major General Athar Abbas, Pakistan’s top military spokesman, also denied knowledge of any meeting, Al Jazeera reported.
Reports of rapprochement between President Karzai and the Taliban, brokered by the Pakistani government, have abounded for the past several months. The three major factions of the Afghan insurgency – the Quetta Shura Taliban, led by Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Haqqani Network, and Hezb-i-Islami, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar – are all based inside Pakistan and have close links to Pakistan’s intelligence service. Pakistan claims it can rein in the Taliban factions and cajole them into renouncing al Qaeda.
Karzai is reported to have lost confidence in the Americans’ ability to defeat the Taliban, and has turned to Pakistan to broker a deal with the three major terror groups, all whom have close ties to al Qaeda. Karzai has met with ISI chief Pasha at least twice in the past several months, according to the The Washington Post.
Other Afghan officials have met with representatives of Hekmatyar, and Karzai’s brother is reported to have met with Mullah Baradar, Mullah Omar’s second in command before he was detained in Pakistan with five other top Afghan Taliban leaders. Pakistan’s detention of the top Afghan Taliban leaders early this year is believed to have been carried out by Pakistan in order to give it influence and control over the pace of negotiations. These detentions began occurring shortly after President Obama announced on Dec. 1, 2009, in a speech to West Point cadets that the US would begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by July 2011.
Pakistan has seized on the US government’s announced timeline for the beginning of troop withdrawal in July 2011 and has stepped up its efforts to broker a deal that will see its proxies gain political power in Afghanistan. For much of its history, Pakistan has sought to sponsor anti-Indian terror groups in Afghanistan and Kashmir as part of its ‘strategic depth’ against the South Asian powerhouse.
Some US officials support negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, and two senior advisers to General Stanley McChrystal, the ousted commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, have claimed that the Haqqanis and Hekmatyar are reconcilable.
The British have also indicated that the time for negotiations with the Taliban is now. General Sir David Richards, the British Army Chief of Staff, said the time for negotiations with the Taliban is at hand.
“From my own, and this is a purely private view, I think there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be looking at that sort of thing [negotiation with the Taliban] pretty soon,” Richards told the BBC.
Negotiations spark concerns of an Afghan civil war
Karzai’s negotiations with the Haqqanis, Hekmatyar, and the Afghan Taliban have sparked concerns among ethnic Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Hazara, the groups that formerly made up the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and who serve as the majority of the government and security forces. Former members of the Northern Alliance are openly talking of battling the Taliban if they are given a role in the government.
“Karzai is giving Afghanistan back to the Taliban, and he is opening up the old schisms,” said Rehman Oghly, an Uzbek member of Parliament and former Northern Alliance commander, told The New York Times. “If he wants to bring in the Taliban, and they begin to use force, then we will go back to civil war and Afghanistan will be split.”
Amrullah Saleh, the former chief of the National Directorate of Security, resigned weeks ago, in part because of President Karzai’s desire to share power with the Taliban. Saleh, a former leader in the Northern Alliance, has been critical of Karzai’s negotiations and has said that Pakistan openly controls the terror groups that conduct attacks in Afghanistan.
“It will be a waste of time to provide evidence of ISI involvement,” Saleh told Reuters. “They are a part of it. The Pakistani army of which ISI is a part, they know where the Taliban leaders are — in their safe houses.”
Background on the Haqqani Network
The Haqqani Network has extensive links with al Qaeda and the Taliban, and its relationship with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency has allowed the network to survive and thrive in its fortress stronghold of North Waziristan. The Haqqanis control large swaths of the tribal area and run a parallel administration with courts, recruiting centers, tax offices, and security forces. They have established multiple training camps and safe houses used by al Qaeda leaders and operatives, as well as by Taliban foot soldiers preparing to fight in Afghanistan.
The Haqqani Network has been implicated in some of the biggest terror attacks in the Afghan capital city of Kabul, including the January 2008 suicide assault on the Serena hotel, the February 2009 assault on Afghan ministries, and the July 2008 and October 2009 suicide attacks against the Indian embassy. American intelligence agencies confronted the Pakistani government with evidence, including communications intercepts, which proved the ISI’s direct involvement in the 2008 Indian embassy bombing. [See LWJ report “Pakistan’s Jihad” and Threat Matrix report “Pakistan backs Afghan Taliban” for additional information on the ISI’s complicity in attacks in Afghanistan and the region.]
The Haqqani Network is led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son, Sirajuddin. Jalaluddin is thought to be ill and is considered the patriarch of the network. Siraj runs the daily operations and is the group’s military commander.
Siraj is one of the most wanted Taliban and al Qaeda leaders in the Afghan-Pakistan region. The US military has described Siraj as the primary threat to security in eastern Afghanistan. He is the mastermind of the most deadly attacks inside Afghanistan, including suicide assaults in Kabul, and he is the senior military commander in eastern Afghanistan. He is the leader of the Taliban’s Miramshah Regional Military Shura, one of the Afghan Taliban’s four regional commands [see LWJ report, “The Afghan Taliban’s top leaders“].
Siraj is considered dangerous not only for his ties with the Afghan Taliban, but also because of his connections with al Qaeda’s central leadership, which extend all the way to Osama bin Laden. Siraj is a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or top council, US intelligence sources told The Long War Journal. In a tape released in April 2010, Siraj admitted that cooperation between the Taliban and al Qaeda “is at the highest limits.” On March 25, 2009, the US Department of State put out a $5 million bounty for information leading to the capture of Siraj.
Despite Siraj’s ties with al Qaeda, and the Haqqani Network’s use of suicide attacks, some top US military commanders have stated that Jalaluddin Haqqani, his father, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, another supporter of al Qaeda, are “absolutely salvageable” and ripe for negotiations.
“The HIG already have members in Karzai’s government, and it could evolve into a political party, even though Hekmatyar may be providing al Qaeda leaders refuge in Kunar,” Major General Michael Flynn, the top military intelligence official in Afghanistan, told The Atlantic in April 2010. “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.”
Sir Graeme Lamb, a senior adviser to General McChrystal, echoed Flynn’s view on Hekmatyar and Haqqani, and discounted the groups’ close ties to al Qaeda.
“Haqqani and Hekmatyar are pragmatists tied to the probability of outcomes,” Lamb also told The Atlantic. “With all the talk of Islamic ideology, this is the land of the deal.”
A Haqqani Network leader known as Zakim Shah serves as the shadow governor of Khost province. Khost, Paktika, and Paktia provinces are the main strongholds of the Haqqani Network in eastern Afghanistan. The Haqqani Network also has a presence in the provinces of Logar, Wardak, Nangarhar, Ghazni, Zabul, and Kabul.
The Haqqani forces in Paktika province are commanded by Mullah Sangeen Zadran, a senior lieutenant to Sirajuddin Haqqani. A US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal that Sangeen also commands forces outside of Paktika and that he has become one of the most dangerous operational commanders in eastern Afghanistan.
Last summer, Sangeen took credit for the kidnapping of a US soldier who apparently stepped away from his post at a combat outpost in Paktika on June 30, 2009. US forces in eastern Afghanistan launched a massive manhunt for the soldier, but failed to find him. The soldier is believed to be held across the border in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.
US and Afghan forces hit the Haqqani Network hard in the summer of 2009 during a series of raids in Khost, Paktika, Paktia, Logar, and Zabul. Major battles were fought in mountainous regions as the joint forces assaulted heavily defended Haqqani Network “fortresses.” The raids failed to dislodge the Haqqani Network from the provinces.
The Haqqani Network has also been heavily targeted by the CIA in the covert air campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Siraj has been the target of multiple Predator strikes. His brother, Mohammed, who served as a military commander, was killed in a February 2010 strike in North Waziristan.
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