The brutal, jihadist Haqqani network is at the heart of the new Afghan government

The brutal, jihadist Haqqani network is at the heart of the new Afghan government. By Tim Black.

There is still talk in Western political circles of this being a new Taliban. Talk that maybe Western governments can ‘engage’ with Afghanistan’s new regime. Talk even that the past 20 years of grim occupation wasn’t for nothing.

Perhaps this explains why so little attention has been paid to the make-up of the Taliban’s newly announced government. Because if anything gives the lie to claims that this is a new Taliban, then surely it is this — a government consisting of familiar Taliban higher-ups and, right at its heart, members of the notorious Haqqani network.

The Haqqani network is not just any Taliban faction. It is a brutal, decades-old, mafia-like grouping with ties to just about every regional jihadist movement going, including al-Qaeda.

As one US intelligence expert puts it: ‘You are one step removed from having the group that attacked us on 9/11 running the country.’ This is not hyperbole. The Haqqani network is pretty much now running Afghanistan. Khalil Haqqani has been appointed minister for refugees and, most disturbing of all, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the network’s chief and the Taliban’s deputy leader, has been named acting interior minister — a post that gives him control over Afghanistan’s internal security apparatus, from law and order to potentially even local governance. …

No wonder that shortly after the Afghan government fell the US State Department was keen to play down the proximity of the Haqqani network to the Taliban, calling them ‘separate entities’. The ascent of a group the US has designated as terrorist — and whose leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is on the FBI’s most-wanted list — rams home the scale of Western forces’ failure. …

The Haqqani network emerged during the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Back then its founder, Jalaluddin Haqqani, a fearsome Mujahideen commander, worked closely with Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence and the CIA, arranging the flow of weapons, resources and fighters into Afghanistan from Pakistan and elsewhere. …

Jalaluddin, who had been very ill for several years, died in 2018. His son, Sirajuddin, took up the reins of the family business during the 2010s. He is reportedly even more ideologically extreme than his father. This perhaps explains the network’s modus operandi in those areas over which it has exerted control over the past few years. Its henchmen were known to thrust scalding rods through the legs of some of those they suspected of talking to the Afghan government — and they would behead the others, before lining up their corpses on the street. …

But then if one thing has changed about the Haqqanis and the Taliban over the past two decades it is their grasp of public relations. … The Taliban was often seen shaking hands and issuing fluffy messages from its offices in Doha, Qatar, in recent years, and Sirajuddin himself even wrote an op-ed for that bastion of wokeness, the New York Times. ‘Everyone is tired of war’, he wrote, channeling his inner peacenik. ‘We are committed to working with other parties in a consultative manner of genuine respect to agree on a new, inclusive political system in which the voice of every Afghan is reflected and where no Afghan feels excluded.’

Sure.

The US press has moved on quickly from the Afghanistan debacle, in order to protect Biden. But reality remains: