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The fountainhead in Af-Pak

A definitive account of one of the most significant network actors in the geopolitical puzzle that is Af-Pak

Stanly Johny 

In September 2011, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, told the US Senate that the Haqqani network "acts as a veritable arm" of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency. His statement set off an international media frenzy since the Haqqanis are considered to enjoy close ties with the Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), against which Islamabad is supposed to be waging a war. Mr Mullen's remark, apart from accusing Pakistan of double standards in the "war on terror", also points to the complex power relations between the different actors in the Af-Pak theatre.

The choices and alliances of these actors actually make the regional situation more complicated and elude rational explanations. Look at this scenario: the Pakistani government is at war with the "bad" Taliban (TTP), which has allied itself with the Haqqani network. The network is getting help from the ISI, but is supplying soldiers to the militant groups fighting the US, which is leading the global war on terror to which Pakistan is party. Understanding today's Af-Pak theatre is almost like solving a geopolitical puzzle. Still, Vahid Brown and Don Rassler manage to do so fantastically in their book Fountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 1973-2012.

The Haqqani tribal network, which operates primarily in eastern Afghanistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) of Pakistan, came into prominence after it started receiving the ISI's support in the 1970s. Pakistan used the Haqqanis, who demanded autonomy in eastern Afghanistan to create trouble for the Soviet-backed government in Kabul. "When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the Haqqanis' advantageous strategic location and well-developed capacity for mobilising the tribes for war made them among the most favoured recipients of the massive amounts of military and financial aid." Direct American support for the network ended in the early 1990, a year after Moscow withdrew its troops from Afghanistan, but its relationship with the Pakistani state continued.

The book characterises the Haqqanis both as providers of safe havens and "a platform for the delivery of violence". It describes the unique role Jalaluddin Haqqani and his network have played in the region "due to its interpersonal relations, geographic position and strategic approach". Part of the Haqqani network's power also "stems from its close ties to Pakistan's Army and its intelligence agencies, which have historically used the group as a proxy to exert influence in Afghanistan and to mediate disputes in Pakistan's FATA," the authors explain. These factors together helped the network become one of the fiercest enemies of the US in the Af-Pak region.

One must not forget that the Haqqani network has survived for nearly 40 years in an extremely volatile region of the world. The dynamics of the Haqqanis' nexus with other actors, mainly Pakistan, Al Qaeda and TTP, have played a key role in this survival. These three actors have relied on the Haqqanis for their own interests. For example, Pakistan uses the network to curtail its arch-rival India's growing influence in Afghanistan. The Haqqanis seem willing to use violence to this end. The 2008 Indian embassy bombing in Kabul is perhaps the most notable example. "So long as Pakistan's army remains committed to unilaterally shaping the post-American future of Afghanistan in its perceived interests, the Haqqani network will continue to be a valuable asset of the military," the authors write.

For the TTP and the Al Qaeda, whose operatives need a sanctuary for continuing their operations, the Haqqani network is their lifeline. The book details the ideological and logistic ties between the network and the TTP - for instance, Siraj Haqqani and the TTP's Qari Hussain (killed in a drone strike in 2010) jointly ran the suicide bomber training camp at Shawal near Miranshah in North Waziristan. The Haqqanis, on the other side, raise resources from this nexus.

As western troops prepare to pull out of Afghanistan next year, the importance of the Haqqani network as an Af-Pak actor has increased. The Americans and the Afghan government are wary of any direct dealing with the Haqqanis due to the network's links with the Al Qaeda. On the other hand, Pakistan, which is expected to play a key role in the post-American Afghanistan, seems determined to use its influence through the Haqqanis, despite the latter's TTP links. This sets the stage for a fresh round of proxy wars in Afghanistan.

The title of the book is actually the translation of the name of a magazine called Manba' al-Jihad (literally meaning the fountainhead of jihad), which the Haqqani network published in Pashto and Arabic in the 1980s and 1990s. The 1,000-page record of this, along with written communications by the group's members and leaders, media productions by its studio (also called Manba' al-Jihad) and articles and correspondence by Al Qaeda leaders and operatives, forms the backbone of the painstaking research in the book. The extensive use of primary sources makes the book a definitive account of the rise and operations of the most significant actors in one of the world's most volatile regions.

The Haqqani Nexus, 1973-2012
Vahid Brown and Don Rassler
Hachette India
320 pages; Rs 650

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First Published: Sun, May 05 2013. 21:15 IST