Afghanistan‘s new interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani is raising concerns among Indian experts because of his close association with Pakistan ISI and his network being responsible for attacks on Indian interests.
The Haqqani network has been responsible for most of the attacks on Indian interests in Afghanistan, including on the Indian embassy in July 2008 that killed 58 people
At a United Nations Security Council meeting following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar sought to flag how “events unfolding in Afghanistan have naturally enhanced global concerns about their implications for both regional and international security”.
Now that the Taliban have again seized power in India’s neighbourhood — the last time they had done so, during 1996-2001, India had refused to recognise their government in Afghanistan — the concern in the region is centred around a potential recrudescence of terror activities.
“The heightened activities of the proscribed Haqqani Network justify this growing anxiety. Whether it is in Afghanistan or against India, groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed continue to operate with both impunity and encouragement,” Jaishankar said at the UNSC meeting, adding that “we must never countenance sanctuaries for terrorists or overlook their raising of resources”.
That was seen as an indirect reference to Pakistan, which is known to be home to several terror outfits that target India. Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) is regarded as being a patron of the Haqqani Network — which happens to be a UN- and US-designated terror group — using it as a leverage with the Taliban.
A UN report in June this year said that “the Haqqani Network remains the Taliban’s most combat-ready forces” and “is reported to have a highly skilled core of members who specialize in complex attacks and provide technical skills, such as improvised explosive device and rocket construction”.
The report further notes that the network “though integrated into the Taliban, retains semi-autonomous status while still reporting directly to the Taliban Supreme Council”. In fact, the leader of the Haqqani Network, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is part of the leadership rung of the Taliban immediately next to their supreme leader, Amir al-Muminin Haibatullah Akhundzada.
The Haqqani Network was formed by Jalaluddin Haqqani, father of Sirajuddin, and one of the most important leaders of the Afghan resistance that fought against the Soviet occupation of the country that had started in 1979. Jalaluddin became a key conduit for the US-backed efforts to funnel arms and money for the Afghan resistance and it was during that time that he also became close to Osama bin Laden, who had arrived in Afghanistan on a call of jihad to fight against the Soviets.
According to US intelligence reports, “The Haqqani Network is primarily based in North Waziristan, Pakistan, and [is]… composed of members of the Zadran tribe”. The UN report adds that the group maintains “a wider force of between 3,000 to 10,000 traditional armed fighters… in the so-called ‘P2K’ region of Khost, Paktika and Paktiya provinces” of Afghanistan.
A 2020 paper by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said the “Haqqani group, remains firmly anti-Indian” and that “supported by the Lashkar-e-Taiba, they have done the bidding of the ISI for a very long time”.
So, while Sirajuddin, in an article in the New York Times last year, talked about the need to “maintain friendly relations with all countries and take their concerns seriously”, experts say that would not be seen by India as an unequivocal guarantee of the Haqqani Network’s commitment to peace.