Jalaluddin Haqqani, who founded the network in the 1970s, was a fluent Arabic speaker, came from Paktia province bordering Pakistan and had attracted a lot of Arab fighters to Afghanistan for the Pashtun nationalist movement. Naturally, his network of fighters enticed Washington in its pursuit to contain Communism and the erstwhile Soviet Union and Jalauddin became an American ally in the 1980s. Washington had no qualms in taking help of a bunch of jihadis along with the Pakistan’s omnipotent military and spy agency, ISI. Jalaluddin was one of the ten Mujahideen commanders who used to receive funds directly from the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It also provided his fighters with the Stinger shoulder-fired missiles, which decisively tilted the balance in favour of the Afghan Mujahideen leading to the Soviet withdrawal by the late 1980s. While this aid to the Mujahideen fighters may have facilitated an American victory against the Soviets, it also paved the way for future chaos and unfortunate destruction for Afghanistan for decades to come.
Washington’s interest too faded from the region after the Soviet withdrawal, but the Arab fighters which the likes of Haqqani had gathered in Afghanistan remained and caused havoc in India’s Kashmir Valley and within Afghanistan. It is these fighters led by Osama bin Laden, which later formed the core of the Al Qaeda. Many of the Al Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan during this period were in the Haqqani-controlled territory. Jalaluddin has also maintained cordial and working relationship with the ISI and therefore with Mullah Omar’s Afghan Taliban, which seized power in Kabul in 1996, after years of infighting. In fact, the senior Haqqani served in Taliban’s Quetta Shura in Pakistan.
After the September 11 attacks, the Haqqanis turned a foe for the US, which was seeking to neutralise Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban. But with the money and weapons provided by the same US and not so tacit support from Pakistan’s civil and military establishment, Haqqani’s group of fearsome fighters, now known as the Haqqani Network, became one of the most deadly terrorist groups in Afghanistan. The group was the closest proxy for the ISI, which used it as a strategic asset against Afghan security forces, NATO and western forces and targeted infrastructure projects built by India and the engineers and technicians working there.
With support of the ISI, the Haqqani Network became known for complex, well-planned, mass-casualty suicide attacks targeting also innocent non-combatants including the deadly truck bomb attack in Kabul last year which killed more than 150 civilians. But the attack which decisively made Haqqani’s intentions clear was the suicide attack on the CIA’s Chapman base in the province of Khost in Afghanistan. The network has also been regularly accused of assassinating top Afghan officials and holding kidnapped Westerners for ransom as well as being engaged in drug smuggling.
But interestingly, while its lethality pushed the US in designating the network as a terrorist organisation in 2012, it spared Jalaluddin Haqqani from being designated as a global terrorist – a due recognition of his contribution to the American designs in the region in the 1980s.
The news of Jalaluddin Haqqani’s death comes at a time when the US finds itself at crossroads in Afghanistan again. Seventeen years after the military invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban has proved to be as resilient as ever, powered by the nefarious designs of the ISI, while the US is really keen to exit. Therefore, just as it joined hands last time with the Afghan Mujahideen to defeat the Soviets, Washington now has no qualms to woo the Afghan Taliban warlords to mend fences with the West-backed Afghan central government in Kabul. These feverish efforts for political reconciliation essentially seek to overlook the history of obscurantism and violence in the name of religion practised by the Afghan Mujahideen, make it part of the Afghan mainstream, and more importantly, give Pakistan another chance to set the tone of the events with its terrorist safe havens and control over the Afghan Taliban. As the old adage goes: ‘The King is dead, Long live the King’. Likewise, notwithstanding the death of Jalaluddin, the terror business will remain as usual for the Haqqani network.