Friday, January 22, 2010

Sirajuddin Haqqani: A profile by the Wall Street Journal

This is a valuable personal profile of a resistance leader. RLC

New Wave of Warlords Bedevils U.S.
Wall Street Journal By MATTHEW ROSENBERG JANUARY 19, 2010

In his teen years, Sirajuddin Haqqani was known among friends as a dandy. He
cared more about the look of his thick black hair than the battles his
father, a mujahideen warlord in the 1980s, was waging with Russia for
control of Afghanistan.

The younger Mr. Haqqani is still a stylish sort, say those who know him. But
now, approaching middle age and ensconced as the battlefield leader of his
father's militant army, he has become ruthless in his own pursuit of an
Afghanistan free from foreign influence. This time the enemy is the U.S. and
its allies.

>From outposts along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, his Haqqani
network is waging a campaign that has made the Afghan insurgency deadlier.
He has widened the use of suicide attacks, which became a Taliban mainstay
only in the past few years. U.S. officials believe his forces carried out
the dramatic Monday gun, grenade and suicide-bomb attack in Kabul on Afghan
government ministries and a luxury hotel. The assault claimed five victims
plus seven attackers.

Mr. Haqqani also aided the Dec. 30 attack by an al Qaeda operative that
killed seven Central Intelligence Agency agents and contractors at a U.S.
base in eastern Afghanistan, say militant commanders. And he orchestrated
last year's assault on a United Nations guesthouse that killed five U.N.
staffers, along with other attacks in the capital.

In a rare interview with The Wall Street Journal conducted by email and
telephone last month, Mr. Haqqani declared, "We have managed to besiege the
Afghan government. We sustain very few causalities; we can inflict heavy
casualties to the enemy's side."

That message is problematic for a key plank of the U.S. military's Afghan
"surge" which is based on a strategy of applying sufficient pressure on some
Taliban leaders that they will negotiate for terms acceptable to Washington.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration lent cautious support to the Afghan
government's new outreach effort to the Taliban-a show of optimism that
lower-level militants would reconcile with Kabul even if senior leaders
continued fighting.

The rise of Mr. Haqqani, who is in his late 30s or early 40s, is part of a
broader changing of the guard in the Afghan militant movement. A younger
generation of commanders have helped transform the Taliban from a peasant
army that harbored al Qaeda and was routed by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001
into a formidable guerrilla force that killed a record 520 Western troops
last year.

Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar and his inner circle-believed to be
based in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta-still provide overall
leadership of the Taliban movement. Osama bin Laden still rallies the al
Qaeda faithful. But more than either man, Mr. Haqqani is at the fulcrum of
the Afghan rebellion and its twin uprising in Pakistan's northwestern
mountains. His base in North Waziristan, on the Pakistani side of the
border, has become arguably the most important Islamist militant haven in
the region, say U.S. and Pakistani officials. It attracts aspiring jihadis
from around the globe, such as the five young Americans arrested last month
in Pakistan who were allegedly on their way there.

Mr. Haqqani has emerged as a powerbroker on both sides of the border. He has
ties to almost every major faction in the confederation of groups operating
under the Taliban umbrella. He has the strongest links to al Qaeda of any
major Taliban faction, say U.S. officials and Pakistani experts. While
pledging allegiance to Mullah Omar, he operates independently, choosing his
own targets and only loosely coordinating with the Taliban's supreme

Mr. Haqqani showed his sway when the Pakistani Taliban, an offshoot of
Afghanistan's Taliban, were on the verge of a bloody struggle following the
death of its leader in a U.S. airstrike this summer. He called the major
factions to North Waziristan to settle the dispute, telling them they must
"follow the path of a great leader....You should save your bullets for your
true enemies," said a tribal elder who attended the meeting.

Within days, the Pakistan Taliban's leadership was settled. The group has
since repeatedly set off bombs in major cities and sent teams of gunmen to
attack symbolic targets, including the headquarters of Pakistan's military.

In Afghanistan, Mr. Haqqani's men have kept up the heat on the government of
President Hamid Karzai and U.S and allied forces with ever-more brazen
attacks, including this week's assault on Kabul.

The attack was trademark Haqqani. Teams of gunmen and suicide bombers struck Kabul in broad daylight. It's a strategy the Haqqani network has used
repeatedly in the past 12 months to sow fear and chaos in the seat of
Afghanistan's weak central government.

The assailants struck on the day that members of the new Afghan cabinet were
to be sworn in. They picked a spot that would allow them to hit a number of
high-profile targets at once: Pashtunistan Square, which is ringed by the
central bank, the entrance to the presidential palace, as well as several
ministries, a shopping center and a luxury hotel.

U.S. and Afghan officials believe Mr. Haqqani has cultivated high-level
double agents inside the Afghan government-including senior military and
police officers, some of whom are suspected of having aided an assassination
attempt on President Karzai at a parade in April 2008 in Kabul.

"There is no doubt that some of our countrymen in the army and police are
helping us in our fight against the occupiers," Mr. Haqqani said when asked
about the parade attack.

The U.S. takes such boasts seriously. "The Haqqanis are the most dangerous,"
said a senior U.S. military commander in Afghanistan. "They're going all the
way to Kabul to carry out major attacks. They've got connections on both

way to Kabul to carry out major attacks. They've got connections on both
sides of the border in a way no one else does. They're dangerous for us and
they're dangerous for the Pakistanis."

Pakistan has until now taken a hands-off approach to Mr. Haqqani, arguing he
spends most of his time in Afghanistan and is ultimately America's problem.
U.S. officials have long alleged that Pakistan tolerates and even aids Mr.
Haqqani, so he can be used to maintain its influence in Afghanistan after an
eventual American withdrawal.

Pakistani officials deny that charge. Mr. Haqqani's central role in the
insurgencies and his clear embrace of al Qaeda and the Pakistan Taliban have
now prompted Pakistan's military and its spy service to consider taking
action against his North Waziristan sanctuary, say Pakistani officials. Some
U.S. officials, too, believe Pakistan is reconsidering its relationship with
the Haqqanis.

The tone surrounding discussions about Mr. Haqqani has changed markedly in
the past year. Officials in Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, have
gone from calling him a potential "force for peace" in Afghanistan to
telling journalists that they lost nearly three dozen agents and informers
in North Waziristan last year. Most were caught spying and killed by Mr.
Haqqani's fighters and their Pakistan Taliban allies, the officials say.

"It's clear to all that the Haqqanis' interests and our interests, over the
long term, they're not the same," said a senior Pakistani civilian official.

Any move by the Pakistanis against Mr. Haqqani appears to be months away, at
the soonest. It would mark a reversal of Pakistani policy that U.S.
officials say could greatly increase the chances of stabilizing the region.

Others in the younger generation of Taliban commanders include Abdullah
Ghulam Rasoul, known as Mullah Zakir, who is in his mid-30s and one of the
main Taliban commanders in southern Afghanistan. His five-year stint as a
prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has given him "rock-star status" in the
Taliban, said Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, the former top American commander
in southern Afghanistan. (Mr. Rasoul was released in 2007 into Afghan

In Pakistan, the most powerful Taliban faction leader is Hakimullah Mehsud,
31, who is considered brutal even by other militants, say tribal elders and

After three decades of almost continuous conflict in Afghanistan and more
than a decade of upheaval in Pakistan's tribal areas, all these young men
have little memory of life without war, said Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former
Pakistani official.

But while an older generation of Afghan warlords, including Mr. Haqqani's
father, had a deep pragmatic streak, the younger commanders may be much more resistant to a settlement.

"Peace talks are about bringing people into the political power structure,"
said Mr. Mohmand, who served as Islamabad's envoy in Afghanistan from 2001
to 2005. "I don't think this younger generation has any idea of politics or
any desire to take part in them....All they've grown up around is war and

Sirajuddin Haqqani grew up amid the struggle for Afghanistan. His father,
Jalaluddin, rose to prominence in the early 1980s battling the Soviet
occupation of Afghanistan. He was a favorite of the U.S., which was pouring
millions of dollars into the insurgency. He also was courted by Pakistan,
where he established his base and developed close ties to the country's spy
agency, Inter-Services Intelligence.

But "the child didn't take to war," said Brig. Amir Sultan Tarar, a retired
ISI officer known as Col. Imam, of the young Mr. Haqqani. It wasn't until
his early 20s-sometime around 1990-that the younger Mr. Haqqani "became an
active participant in our struggles," said Brig. Tarar.

Friends who grew up with Mr. Haqqani say a religious awakening spurred his

"He saw the Arabs and their devotion and admired it," said Gul Khan, a
businessman in North Waziristan who went to school with Mr. Haqqani. Some of the Arabs then fighting the Soviets, including Osama bin Laden, would go on
to form the core of al Qaeda.

Those who know Sirajuddin Haqqani say he shares his father's battlefield
acumen, which propelled him ahead of other siblings to assume day-to-day
leadership of the militant faction in the past two or three years. His
father remains titular chief.

Under Sirajuddin Haqqani, the faction has strengthened its dominance over
the territory carved out by his father in the 1980s-Khost, Paktika and
Paktia provinces of eastern Afghanistan. His men also have moved deeper into
Afghanistan, according to U.S. military assessments.

As his stature has risen, he has begun to see himself in grandiose religious
terms, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials and tribesmen in the border
region. He now styles himself "Khalifa"-a title for a leader who rules
Muslims in accordance with Islamic law.

In his public rhetoric, he distances himself from his father's past ties to
the U.S. while claiming the same mantle of Islamic resistance to occupiers.

"My father was fighting the Russians....I am following his footprints," he
said in the Journal interview. "Like today, during the Soviet era the
mujahideen were fighting an occupying force and believed that foreign forces
are the only obstacle which prevents peace and stability in Afghanistan."

But, he added, "My father didn't have a personal relationship with the
Americans," who along with Saudi Arabia provided most of the financing for
the mujahideen.

Financial aid to the mujahideen also came from wealthy Muslim donors. Those
connections remain, and have provided the Haqqanis with much of the cash
needed to bankroll their fight, say U.S. officials and experts.

As for Pakistan, once his father's staunchest supporter, the relationship
with the son appears increasingly strained.

Pakistan has been pursuing a military campaign in South Waziristan, a tribal
region bordering North Waziristan that was also a safe haven for al Qaeda
and the Pakistani Taliban. Already, Mr. Haqqani is beginning to feel the
pressure in his rear flank in North Waziristan, say tribal elders and
militants in the region.

Residents of Miran Shah, the main city in North Waziristan, say that a
number of Islamic seminaries used by the Haqqanis have been largely
abandoned in the past two weeks, except for a skeleton staff of guards. The
Haqqani loyalists moved out partly because they feared retaliatory U.S.
strikes following the CIA attack, said Gul Khan, the tribal elder.

But "they see that there are soldiers in South Waziristan and everywhere
else," he said, referring to the most recent offensive against the Pakistan
Taliban, which is taking place on Mr. Haqqani's doorstep. "They're all
underground now. It's a very dangerous time." -Anand Gopal in Kabul and
Yochi J. Dreazen in Kandahar, Afghanistan, contributed to this article.

Write to Matthew Rosenberg at