By Baker Atyani
The Taliban have undoubtedly lost one of their key figures with the death of Jalaluddin Haqqani. He was not from the founding fathers, but he was surely one of the Afghan faction leaders who joined the Taliban in 1995, a year before they seized Kabul. In fact, his forces played a major role in the fall of the city.
I met Haqqani in Kabul, back in September 1998, when he was the Minister of Borders and Tribal Affairs in the Taliban government ruling Afghanistan at that time.
He was not like the other Taliban in many ways. Despite belonging to the Deoband school of thought, he was more open to the media, and not opposed to the camera or women’s education.
A quiet person by nature who chose his words well, he was dressed in traditional shalwar kameez, wearing the white tribal turban and a khaki jacket. His personality strikingly resembled that of his longtime ally, Al-Qaeda terror chief Osama bin Laden.
He hailed from a prominent Pashtun tribe — the Zadran — which expands over the provinces of Paktia, Paktika, and Khost, south-east of Afghanistan.
He attended the religious seminary Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania, in Akora Khattak in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and from there he got his surname Haqqani.
Jalaluddin led his Zadran tribe in its fights for more than four decades. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, he was working under Maulvi Yunis Khalis, the leader of Hizb-e-Islami-Khalis, and proved to be a well-organized and a tough fighter who kept to date most of what is known as Loya Paktia (greater Paktia in southeastern Afghanistan) under his command.
Haqqani and his fighters were known as Hizb-e-Islami-Khalis before they joined the Taliban in 1995. However, their separate line of command from the Taliban and connections with Al-Qaeda and other foreign militant groups such as the Uzbeks and Uighurs made the security services name it as a network.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, the successor of his elder Haqqani, however, said in one of his rare interviews with the media that the term “network” was devised by the “enemies” to strike the unity of the “resistance movement.”
In early 2003, a videotape was dropped at Al-Arabiya news channel’s office in Islamabad. I was then based in Islamabad and working for Al-Arabiya news channel. There was a video filmed in an unknown area, but apparently somewhere in southeastern Afghanistan. It showed a bunch of militants ambushing a US military convoy, and the American flag could be seen on one of the hummers. The convoy was then subjected to heavy gunfire and explosions.
This was one of the first documented returns of the Haqqanis in the fight against the US and international forces in Afghanistan, after the ouster of the Taliban regime in late 2001.
Over the past 17 years, Jalaluddin Haqqani and his fighters have been considered the most sophisticated and lethal insurgents in Afghanistan -– responsible for many high-profile attacks in Kabul and not just confining themselves to southeastern parts of Afghanistan.
All through the years of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, during the years of the Taliban regime and after that, he was always described by the CIA and the Afghan intelligence as Pakistan’s asset. A claim which, to a large extent, is true when interests meet.
In the 1980s, the CIA through Pakistan’s spy agency — the Inter-Services Intelligence — sent a large quantity of munitions and cash to Haqqani and other Afghan factions to fight the Soviet forces.
Haqqani back then was described by a US intelligence officer who knew him: “He could kill Russians like you wouldn’t believe.”
Today, Sirajuddin Haqqani, known to be more ruthless than his father, with a $10 million bounty placed on his head by the US, has succeeded the elder Haqqani in leading the insurgent group. He is also now deputy to the Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhonzadah.
(The author Baker Atyani is Arab News’ South Asia Bureau Chief. @atyanibaker)