“Pakistan’s favored Taliban, the Haqqanis, dominate. Taliban leaders who sought to gain some independence from Pakistan or to seek a negotiated solution have been marginalized.”

In some ways, the Taliban that is now in power in Kabul looks a great deal like the Taliban that ruled Afghanistan in the run-up to 9/11. In their first weeks in office, the Taliban whipped women in publictortured journaliststargeted minoritiesexecuted former collaborators with the United States, and canceled female sports and secondary education.

In other ways, the Taliban, and its new leadership, looks very different. The recent focus on the Taliban’s human rights violations and the group’s escalating battle with the Islamic State in Afghanistan risks overshadowing a potentially bigger story: the bloodstained rise of Sirajuddin Haqqani and the Haqqani Network. A loyal proxy of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, the network has been active in Afghanistan since the 1970s. Through brutal tactics and battlefield successes, the Haqqani Network — a terrorist group allied with, and increasingly embedded in, the Taliban leadership structure — has now established itself as a dangerous and influential kingmaker in Kabul, Jeff Smith writes in War on the Rocks.

Throughout the course of the Afghan War, the Haqqani Network was often responsible for the deadliest and highest-profile terrorist attacks on U.S. forces. It may be no coincidence that Khalil ur-Rahman Haqqani, a terrorist with a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head, was appointed to serve as the head of security in the Afghan capital one week before an August 2021 suicide bombing at the Kabul airport killed 13 U.S. soldiers and over 160 Afghan civilians. The fox was finally guarding the henhouse.

When the Taliban announced a new hardline government in September, several members of the Haqqani Network were given key ministerial positions, handing the terrorist group control of internal security in Afghanistan. It increasingly seems that the fall of Kabul was as much a victory for the Haqqani Network as it was for the traditional Taliban leadership. Indeed, within days of announcing the new government, senior Haqqani commanders engaged in a fistfight with a key Taliban leader, sending him fleeing from the capital to traditional Taliban strongholds in the south.

The ascendence of the Haqqanis has also been a victory for Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies. As longtime Afghanistan scholar Barnett Rubin notes, today “Pakistan’s favored Taliban, the Haqqanis, dominate. Taliban leaders who sought to gain some independence from Pakistan or to seek a negotiated solution have been marginalized.”

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