The Haqqanis impose their radical will on Afghanistan

When Afghan Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani showed up at a police training ceremony on March 6, the warlord’s first appearance in state-run media grabbed global headlines and sparked new speculation about the post-war balance of power inside the country.

While the notorious leader of the Haqqani network is still officially wanted by the US FBI on terrorism charges, the shadow minister’s exit showed some of his radical faction’s tightened grip on the Taliban-led government after seizing power by force last August.

Haqqani Network fighters played a crucial role in the Taliban’s military victory and represent the government’s most war-hardened semi-autonomous faction. The network has been blamed for some of the deadliest attacks of the war, including for its frequent and wanton use of suicide bombers, and is known to have close ties to the terrorist group al-Qaeda.

While a Taliban faction led by Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Bardar has said Taliban Government 2.0 will be more “moderate” than its previous radical regime toppled by invading US forces, it is not unclear to most analysts and observers that Sirajuddin and other Haqqani networks in the highest government positions share this view.

These opposing views were exposed to the world when a major row erupted between Taliban leaders just days after their new Islamic Emirate government was installed in Kabul. News reports at the time indicated that rival factions were coming to physical blows over who was doing the most to secure victory over the United States and how power would be distributed in a new cabinet.

The Taliban denied the reports at the time, but Bardar appeared to go into hiding for several days after the incident. Country analysts and seasoned observers say that a few months later, representatives of the Haqqani network now have the upper hand over Bardar’s more moderate clique and are slowly but surely imposing their more radical vision of the country.

Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Bardar is locked in an intra-Taliban power struggle with the Haqqani network. Photo: Agencies

Although Afghanistan’s economic situation is dire, with the United Nations estimating that up to 23 million Afghans were “acutely hungry” in February 2022, the country is as politically stable as it has been for decades. decades with the Haqqanis at the de facto head of the Islamic Regime with few armed rivals behind the scenes.

“Indeed, political stability under the Haqqanis was the message conveyed through the lens of the swooning ceremony, which is otherwise an insignificant event in the larger context of the post-withdrawal scenario from Afghanistan,” said Shah Farman, Kabul-based journalist and activist. who now lives in Pakistan out of fear for his personal safety.

Sirajuddin Haqqani said nothing about the country’s famine crisis during the event. By most accounts, the Taliban leadership has no idea how to move the country from war to peace and prevent the sanctions-imposed economic crisis from becoming a humanitarian crisis.

“The growing lack of food and cash is affecting everyone in Afghanistan, including Taliban field commanders and their common fighters and their own families,” says a former administration interior ministry official Ashraf Ghani. who requested anonymity for security reasons.

The situation compelled these standby commanders and fighters to extract money from ordinary Afghans, a “misconduct” that Sirajuddin Haqqani himself referred to in his speech, which was reportedly attended by several foreign diplomats, including from China and the Pakistan.

The minister said that Taliban commanders and fighters now undergo training in “governance” and that he personally oversees the process, which, as Shah Farman asserted, “only means that more and more fighters Taliban are converted to the Haqqani network ideology of a jihad.”

The Haqqani network is increasing its strength not only to consolidate its grip on Afghanistan, but also to systematically marginalize the Bardar group, which has led the Taliban’s diplomacy with the outside world, including key players like China and Russia. , analysts said.

With Sirajuddin Haqqani controlling the powerful Interior Ministry, which has significant authority over the police, his group can influence the extent to which the government acts against the transnational terrorist groups still present in the country, including the Tehrik-e- Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and al-Qaeda.

Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters marching in Afghanistan in a file photo. Picture: Facebook

China, Russia and the West have all urged the Taliban to rein in the groups and prevent the country from becoming a haven for transnational terrorism. These powers withhold official diplomatic recognition of the Taliban regime until it demonstrates its intention to act against terrorist groups.

Although the Taliban have officially maintained that they do not support these terrorist groups and that Afghan territory will not be allowed to be used to attack other countries, “the fact that there has been no significant action against one of these groups just shows the ability of the Haqqani network to shape policy,” former administration official Ghani said.

“Most of the commanders and fighters controlling major military installations in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan belong to the Haqqani network,” he added.

This means that it is almost “entirely up to the Haqqanis to decide what action, if any, when and how they take”, according to Shah Farman.

Given the Haqqanis’ long-standing support for global jihad, few expect them to take meaningful action – even if suppressing the groups is essential to restoring desperately needed foreign aid and winning recognition from a large part of the international community.

With the Haqqani network now controlling key ministries, including the Interior and Culture, it can combine its policy of protecting transnational jihadist networks with the promotion of radical ideology and the systematic suppression of any rival doctrine or idea against the creation of a sharia-dominated Islamic state.

For example, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, the current Afghan Minister of Information and Culture, graduated from the Haqqaniya Madrassa known for training militants and considered one of the founding fathers of the Taliban. He spent 12 years in Guantanamo Bay in US hands before being released in 2014 in a prisoner exchange.

Now in government, Khairkhwa has been instrumental in cracking down on news and public opinion that could be shaped by independent media reporting. A recent report by Human Rights Watch showed that journalists based outside Kabul must share their stories with the Provincial Directorate of Information and Culture before publication.

Taliban fighters stand on an armored vehicle before marching along a road in celebration after the United States withdrew all of its troops from Afghanistan, in Kandahar on September 1, 2021, following the country’s military takeover by the Taliban. Photo: AFP/Javed Tanveer

The Haqqani-led ministry also imposes media guidelines that require newspapers and news channels to adhere to the principles and beliefs of the new “Islamic emirate”. Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesman for the Taliban, recently told reporters that they should only publish material that “national interests, Islamic values ​​and national unity”.

“According to this directive, it is impossible for journalists to report anything related to how the Haqqanis control or how transnational jihadist groups are protected,” Shah Farman said.

A key difference between the Haqqani network and the more moderate Bardar camp is that the former believe it was their struggle, rather than the talks and agreements reached in Doha, that forced the United States out of Afghanistan.

This explains why when the Haqqanis arrived in Kabul and occupied the presidential palace, they saw their victory there over the United States and its Afghan National Forces being supported, according to Mahmudullah, a former Kabul-based journalist who saw this happen. produce first hand.

“The Haqqanis were the ones who captured the symbolic seat of power” and they were able to consolidate it further “by capturing some key ministries,” Mahmudullah added.

Having survived its first months in power and with the West now largely focused on Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Haqqanis now clearly see an opportunity to project themselves as Afghanistan’s de facto ruling elite.

“Their influence was largely underestimated until now. Sirajuddin’s appearance and [head of state] The continued absence of Haibatullah Akhundzada definitely shows who is in charge here,” former administration official Ghani said. “Their influence is profound,” he added.

Despite Taliban rhetoric about moderation, the Haqqanis are the epitome of the radical. Analysts note that Sirajuddin Haqqani openly celebrated with the families of deployed suicide bombers to devastating effect during the war.

Sirajuddin Haqqani US FBI wanted poster. Photo: fbi.gov

Of course, the Taliban and the Haqqani need money to govern. While the United States recently eased some of its sanctions, including on aid distribution, and allowed the Taliban access to some of the roughly $9.5 billion frozen in U.S. banks and institutions, money and foreign aid are beginning to flow into Afghanistan again.

However, the Haqqanis are strategically placed to benefit from this change. Kahlil ur Rehman Haqqani is the refugee minister, directly involved in channeling aid to Afghanistan through international agencies, including the UN.

“With the aid now flowing through the Haqqanis, the group can only celebrate its default leadership in Afghanistan, backed by the international community,” said Mahmudullah, who for his part sees a bleak future in Afghanistan for anyone. hopes for a moderate and inclusive diet.

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