Jalaluddin Haqqani, 1939-2018: The grandfather of global jihad who unleashed a reign of terror to 'rescue defenceless Muslims'
For years, the West chose to overlook Jalaluddin Haqqani’s patronage of jihadist causes — and the plain language of his speeches — in the pursuit of tactical ends.
“Brothers,” thundered the stocky, thick-bearded man on the stage, “know that we will not lay down our arms when Afghanistan has become free. We will fight with and help Muslims in India and Kashmir to get their freedom from the Hindus, we will rescue the Palestinians from the cruelties of the Jews; we hope that God, through us, will rescue the Muslims of Balkh, Bukhara, Tashkent and Samarkand from the yoke of the Russians. We ask that God will care for our arms until the defenceless Muslims of the world are rescued."
The man who spoke at the Harkat ul-Jihad e-Islami’s convention in Gujranwala that day in 1988 passed away in Pakistan on Tuesday after a long illness. Jalaluddin Haqqani will be remembered as the man who built the so-called Haqqani network, the jihadist group that is now the Taliban’s most feared fighting arm.
But that is not Haqqani’s true significance: As much as the better-known Osama bin Laden, among his closest friends, the Afghan jihad leader was an architect of the global jihadist movement, building the foundations that allowed it to grow into this century.
Events that took place before Haqqani’s birth in 1939 were to shape his destiny. In 1920, inspired by the example of Turkey’s Kemal Atatürk, King Amanullah Khan, sought to modernise Afghanistan. He decreed the end of purdah, the seclusion of women, and set up co-education schools. Perhaps more important was the order that sought an end to the exemptions south-eastern tribes had long enjoyed from conscription, and the central penal code. The king’s actions enraged both tribal conservatives and the clerics.
In 1924 and in 1928, the Zadran and Karlani tribes revolted against the king. His successor, Nadir Shah, was forced to roll back the reforms. Led by the clerical networks of Mirza Ali Khan and Fazal Wahid, ethnic Pashtuns meanwhile flocked to what is North Waziristan to battle imperial Britain.
Khwaja Muhammad Khan, Haqqani’s father, had made a small fortune trading with both Afghanistan and British India — a fortune that would pay for education of his four sons at the Dar ul-Ulum Haqqaniya, whose alumni include Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar, who died in 2015, key jihadist ideologue Fazl-ul-Rehman and the Uttar Pradesh-born head of Al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent, Sana-ul-Haq.
In 1957, when socialist-leaning prime minister Mohammad Daud Khan reignited the conflict with the south-eastern tribes over purdah, Khan’s children began to be sucked into the Islamist resistance against Kabul and, inexorably, into jihadism.
Following the declaration of an Afghan republic in 1973, Pakistan prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto authorised the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, better known as ISI, to begin funding Islamist insurgents in Afghanistan—a measure intended to retaliate against Kabul’s support for ethnic-Pashtun and Baloch nationalists his government savagely repressed. Financed, by some accounts, by the United States, Bhutto authorised the Frontier Corps’ Brigadier Naseerullah Babar, later defence minister of Pakistan, to train up to 5,000 jihadists to take on the Afghan state.
“As soon as Daud declared the establishment of the Republic,” the Haqqani network recorded in its 1989 magazine, Manba al-Jihad, or Fountainhead of Jihad, “Maulvi Sahab Jalaluddin Haqqani declared jihad in the village of Nika, Zadran, and raised the flag of jihad there.” He was joined, the magazine recorded, “by some ulema [clerics] and Taliban [religious students]."
The jihadist campaign against the Afghan state was crushed in 1975 but four years later, Soviet tanks would cross the Amu Darya, and the defeated Islamist guerrillas would reshape the world.
From the outset, the Haqqanis distinguished themselves from other anti-Soviet jihadists by welcoming volunteers—and just cash—from across the world.
“If the Islamic world truly wants to support and help us,” Jalaluddin Haqqani told the Abu Dhabi newspaper Al-Ittihad in 1980, “it should permit its men and young men to join our ranks. There is a tendency in most of the Islamic countries which wish to help us to present aid and food as a kind of jihad. Some even think that this is the best kind of jihad. This, however, does not absolve the Muslim of the duty to offer himself for the jihad.”
“This declaration,” Vahid Brown and Don Rassler have noted in their seminal book on the Haqqani network, The Fountainhead of Jihad, “was made years before Abdullah Azzam would issue his ‘revolutionary’ fatwa on the individually obligatory (fard ’ayn) nature of supporting the Afghan jihad.”
Five years before Azzam would establish the Maktab al-Khidmat in Peshawar, the genesis of Al Qaeda, the men who would go on to become significant in Osama bin Laden’s organisation were already training at the Haqqani’s base at Zhawara -- a sprawling structure with a hospital, engineering workshops, arms dumps and even a hotel for visitors.
In 1979, the Egyptian journalist Mustafa Hamid, who would go on to be one of Al Qaeda’s ideologues, came on board. Thousands of other foreigners followed, from the Arab world, Tajikistan, Chechnya -- and Kashmir.
The end of the war against the Soviet Union saw the Haqqani network increasingly make its resources available to jihadists fighting India. Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s military chief, learned his craft fighting with the Haqqani network in Loya Paktia, as did the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen’s Fazlur Rehman Khalil. The organisation claimed to have trained thousands of fighters for the jihad in Kashmir -- and that was not its sole aim.
“Jihad continues to be a sacred duty until the infidels are defeated throughout the world,” Haqqani declared in 1991. “God will not bless us for our past jihad. To win his blessings, we have to continue jihad until the end.”
In the pre-9/11 world, this project was unabashedly embraced by many. In 1991, Haqqani even received an official state reception from the United Arab Emirates’ Sheikh Zayed Sultan al-Nahyan.
Frustrated by the infighting among its Afghan proxies, the ISI began to back the Taliban in 1993. The new turn threatened the Haqqanis. Taliban fighters even surrounded the home of Haqqani’s brother, Ibrahim, and demanded the surrender of their forces in Loya Paktia.
Eventually, a deal was reached, with the Haqqanis agreeing to serve as the Taliban’s vassals in the region, as long as their businesses—scrap metal, narcotics, and protection levies on transport—were protected.
Even though he served the Taliban as minister of borders and tribal affairs, Haqqani is known to have opposed several Taliban directives -- among them, banning music and imposing long beards. These edicts were less-than-rigorously enforced around Khost. Rebellions broke out around Khost when Taliban sought to suppress a local egg-throwing festival.
Though jihadism is often associated with neo-fundamentalist Salafism, it is important to note that the Haqqanis drew legitimacy from orthodox Deobandi tradition and cultural conservatives. Haqqani jihadism was primarily political -- not theological.
Osama bin Laden’s return from Somalia to Afghanistan in 1996 gave the Haqqanis some access to cash but it was clear the outfit was being marginalised by the Taliban. Left with only 300 fighters it seemed destined for oblivion.
Haqqani, several accounts have it, was less than pained by the Taliban’s eviction from power after 9/11 and sought to broker a deal with the United States. None, however, was on offer. He was pushed, moreover, by former ISI chief Lieutenant-General Mahmud Ahmed not to surrender his friend, Osama bin Laden. In an interview at the end of 2001, Haqqani vowed to “retreat into the mountains and begin a long guerrilla war to reclaim our pure land from the infidel”.
From 2003 on, the Haqqani network reemerged as the most important fighting element in the Taliban -- this time, backed by the ISI, which saw it as a valuable tool to rein-in a sometimes less-than-cooperative Taliban leadership. The network offered the Taliban cash, weapons, and access to safe zones controlled by ethnic-Pashtun warlords. Haqqani, in turn, became the second-most important figure in the insurgency.
In 2008, the outfit began receiving global attention after the July suicide-attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, an attack the Central Intelligence Agency found was carried out with the direct involvement of ISI attackers. Three years later, the Haqqanis staged the largest-ever coordinated attack on Kabul since 9/11; their operations have continued since, ever-increasing in scale and violence.
The Haqqanis, former United States military chief Admiral Mike Mullen said, had become “a veritable arm” of the ISI.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, serving as the Taliban’s deputy chief as his father lay ill and with the United States eager to negotiate its way out of Afghanistan, must be sensing power awaits him in the not-too-distant future.
For years, the West chose to overlook Jalaluddin Haqqani’s patronage of jihadist causes — and the plain language of his speeches — in the pursuit of tactical ends. It continues to endure the consequences. The death of the global jihad’s grandfather ought to be a time to pause and reflect on the price that will have to be paid for making the same mistake again.
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