The Taliban’s newly appointed minister of interior and acting minister of refugees each have $5 million bounties on their heads to interact with global terrorism. Sirajuddin Haqqani and his uncle, Khalil Haqqani, both belong to the Haqqani network. This Afghan Sunni Islamist militant organization is functionally part of the Taliban and was labeled by America as a foreign terrorist organization in 2012. The Haqqani network has long been the Taliban’s most destructive and vicious element, a ruthless and mercenary group.
Now, with Sirajuddin in a leadership role, the Taliban will inevitably grow more radical over time, quashing any hopes for a “kinder, gentler” Taliban. The Haqqanis’ rise to power has been long in the making, stretching back to its founding in 1970 by the family’s patriarch, Jalal Uddin, a veteran jihadi, links with Pakistan’s spy agency and associated with Osama Bin Laden. The primary purpose was the group to fight against the Soviet forces in the 1980s. After the US intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, the Haqqani’s supported the Taliban to fight against America, mainly operating the first Taliban’s regional shuras at Miran Shah; shuras are powerful counseling bodies that work as regional commands.
What is Shura’s mechanism?
There were different Taliban shuras like Miran Shah, Quetta and Peshawar. However, these shuras controlled provinces and regions within Afghanistan.
In return for pledging loyalty to the Taliban’s leadership council, the Taliban granted the Haqqanis the group’s finances and decision-making power. Meanwhile, Jalal Uddin prepared his son Sirajuddin to take a more vital role within the Haqqani network and the Taliban’s organizational setup. The Haqqani network enlarged a fearsome reputation due to its high-profile attacks in Kabul and tactics like suicide bombings under the leadership of Sirajuddin.
Undoubtedly, the Haqqani network was the first element of the Taliban to introduce suicide bombings, which it educated from al Qaeda and started using in 2004. After the death of Mullah Mohammed Omar, Mullah Mansour took the seat of new emir; Sirajuddin took the position of the Taliban’s de facto military chief and one of Mansour’s two deputies, along with Haibatullah Akhunzada. Akhunzada became head of the Taliban after the elimination of Mansour in a US drone strike within Pakistan in 2016. Sirajuddin also placed Khalil Haqqani as the leader of the Peshawar Shura, thereby securing his grip over Taliban operations in a large part of Afghanistan, including Nangarhar, Nuristan, Kunar, and Laghman provinces as well as Wardak, Parwan, and Kapisa provinces.
The Taliban increased their operational tempo under a more consolidated Haqqani leadership, launching more sophisticated and deadlier attacks. Sirajuddin, as a deputy to Akhunzada, was officially in charge of Taliban activities in 20 Afghan provinces, including Kabul, while the other 14 remained with Akhundzada’s second deputy, Mullah Muhammad Yaqoob. Mansour’s and Akhundzada’s relative lack of battlefield experience meant Sirajuddin had almost total autonomy over military strategy and operations. Although Sirajuddin had long been handling the Taliban terrorist campaigns, his new role gave him complete control. According to one Taliban leader, the group’s commanders needed Sirajuddin’s approval to change plans.
A former commander from the Haqqani network reported in 2016 Sirajuddin’s influence within the Taliban is growing and no one can be appointed as a Taliban governor without his consent. Sirajuddin became head of the Haqqani network after the demise of his father in 2018. The Haqqani network has officially remained an integral part of the Taliban setup; however, the nature and depth of their relationship have changed after 2001. Sirajuddin always pushed the Taliban to adopt a hard stance. Now that the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, few expect that to cease. The Haqqani corps has continually pushed for complex, high casualty attacks that often result in significant civilian casualties within the Taliban.
Analyzing the motives of the Haqqani network
The Haqqani network is considered more anti-United States than other parts of the Taliban. To understand how Sirajuddin will play his role as interior minister, look no further than a recent ceremony he headed over honoring the families of Taliban suicide bombers. Sirajuddin even announced cash rewards and plots of land to the attackers’ families, whom he considered”martyrs.” In his 33-minute speech, Sirajuddin illustrated himself as the mastermind of these attacks and suggested more to come against the Taliban’s enemies. Sirajuddin indicated to keep his position as the Taliban’s main military strategist, with suicide attacks remaining a go-to tactic in the group’s repertoire.
Another indicator of the Taliban’s future path is the relationship between Sirajuddin and foreign militants, including al Qaeda militants, Pakistani Taliban fighters, and militants from Central Asian groups. According to the UN Security Council’s most recent assessment, more than 10,000 jihadis are operating in Afghanistan with connections to the Taliban and al Qaeda, and the Haqqani network is the backbone of this relationship. Sirajuddin keeps power in the Taliban structure beyond his ministry role as the Afghan Interior Minister. For example, his ministry is involved with the appointment of provincial and district governors.
Although he avoids meetings and public appearances due to the numerous bounties on his head, his younger brother Anas Haqqani represents him in meetings both within and outside of Afghanistan. Sirajuddin’s influence with foreign fighters also makes him one of the most influential leaders in the Taliban and one called on by other countries to help deal with groups these states consider a threat. Sirajuddin is currently playing a central role in mediating talks between the Pakistani Taliban and the Pakistani state. This grasp provides Sirajuddin with increased stature because states like Pakistan need his support to diminish the threat produced by various militant groups with links to Afghanistan.
There are very few choices for dealing with a Taliban-led government disfigured with officially designated terrorists in leadership positions. Over time, other states may accept the Taliban regime, including Beijing and Moscow. If that happens, the Haqqanis’ will be the winner against the United States in Afghanistan. It either follows suit to cut its losses, thus legalizing a regime with blood on its hands, or remains on the outside looking in with no grasp to impact the situation.
The writer is a visiting lecturer at the Department of International Relations, Government College University Faisalabad, Pakistan and writes for the Climax, Balochistan Times and Balochistan Express, Pakistan. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.