We need to talk about the Haqqanis

October 7, 2011

In a question and answer session last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked about how the United States would balance its need to work with Pakistan while also putting it under pressure to end its alleged support for the Haqqani network.

Her answer, according to the State Department transcript, was to remind her audience that the United States had also played a role in creating the mujahideen to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

“Now, I also think it’s important to take a little historical review. If you go on YouTube, you can see Sirajuddin Haqqani with President Reagan at the White House, because during the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the United States Government, through the CIA, funded jihadis, funded groups like the Haqqanis to cross the border or to, within Afghanistan, be part of the fight to drive the Soviets out and bring down the Soviet Union,” she says.

I have to assume she means Jalaluddin Haqqani, the elderly father who has since passed on much of the leadership of the Haqqani network to his son, Siraj. Yet here is the thing. I cannot find any evidence that Haqqani ever visited the White House. I have asked around among Afghanistan and Pakistan experts. I have skimmed through my copy of Charlie Wilson’s War.  I have asked on Twitter if anyone could show that Haqqani had ever visited the United States. 

And so far I have nothing.  I am not going to say definitively that Jalaluddin Haqqani never visited the United States – the little voice in my head that says people who live in glass houses should not throw stones stops me from doing that.  But my working assumption – until proved otherwise – is that Clinton was wrong.

So why does it matter? The United States and Saudi Arabia did fund the mujahideen in the 1980s and to some extent bear the responsibility for what is happening now.

It matters for three reasons. It matters because if we can’t get our historical facts right, policy decisions are being made based on very shaky foundations.  The nature of U.S.,  Saudi and Pakistani support for the jihad against the Soviets is still very much open to debate.

According to its defenders, the Pakistan army paid a very high price for fighting the Soviets on America’s behalf. Pakistan also had some three milliion Afghan refugees to deal with and when the Soviet Union retreated from Afghanistan it was left with thousands of armed Islamist militants without a cause and a raging Afghan civil war on its borders. Helping bring the Taliban to power in Kabul and turning the jihadis on Kashmir was a way of dealing with that problem.

Yet – and here is where history matters – how much was Pakistan a victim of the U.S. Cold War against the Soviet Union and how much did it turn it to its advantage?  It might have been possible during the jihad against the Soviets for Pakistan to support Afghan nationalist insurgents with U.S. and Saudi money – Pakistan controlled the way these funds were spent. The Pakistan army chose to stress Islamist militancy over Pashtun nationalist militancy in part because it has always  been afraid of Pashtun  nationalism on its side of the border. By stressing Islamist over nationalist/ethnic militancy, the  Pakistan army opted for what to a military mind was the best way to protect the integrity and unity of Pakistan.  (This was also obvious in some ways for an army which had lost East Pakistan to ethnic nationalism in the 1971 war which led to the creation of Bangladesh.) -

In many ways, that mindset continues. Work out how far the Pakistan army is dependent on instrumentalising Islam in its security posture and you are a long way to understanding how big the gap is between the United States and Pakistan. 

The contestable reading of history matters also for how it is portrayed nowadays.  The story about Haqqani being entertained at the  White House is an old one. Yet it was revived recently in the Pakistani media with a photo purporting to show that encounter – which appeared in fact to involve a different person. Commenting on the alleged White House meeting, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani said on Twitter that  the “fact remains neither Jalaluddin nor Sirajuddin Haqqani met Pres Reagan. Maulvi Khalis did.”

The photo underpinned a powerful narrative in Pakistan – that the United States rather than Pakistan is responsible for creating Islamist militancy. The United States is uncontestably responsible for many things – for the invasion of Iraq, for winning the Cold War to become the world’s sole superpower and for championing an untrammeled free market system that has contributed to the current global financial crisis. But how much did Washington with its money create Islamist militancy and how much was it a product of Pakistani security thinking?

If we don’t know the answers to that question, how are we supposed to judge whether the Haqqani network should be  included in peace talks in Afghanistan?

We know the idea of talking to the Haqqanis is on the table. The Pakistan army alluded to contacts between the Americans and the Haqqani network in a statement condemning allegations made by Admiral Mike Mullen, outgoing chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the Haqqani network was a “veritable arm” of the Inter-Servitable.ces Intelligence (ISI) agency. In its response, the Pakistan army statement quoted army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as saying “Admiral Mullen knows fully well which all countries are in contact with the Haqqanis. Singling out Pakistan is neither fair nor productive.”

Writing in the Washington Post, David Ignatius said that “U.S. officials know the ISI also facilitated a secret meeting during the last several months between the United States and a representative of the Haqqani clan.” The aim was to find out whether the Haqqani network – or parts of it – were “reconcilable”.  “The message to the Haqqanis is that they can best protect political power in their ancestral homeland in Paktika, Paktia and Khost provinces by coming to the table now,” he wrote.

Technically, the US administration’s conditions for bringing back Afghan militant groups into the political process do not in any case exclude the Haqqani network - requiring only as end-conditions of talks that they sever ties with al Qaeda, renounce violence and agree to respect the Afghan constitution.  And as Joshua Foust wrote at Registan.net, it is hard to find moral grounds for excluding the Haqqanis when some of the United States own allies in Afghanistan have if anything an even worse track record. Or as former CIA officer Robert Baer put it in Time, “when the U.S. finally leaves, don’t be surprised to see the Haqqanis in Kabul.”

Yet what do we know about the Haqqanis? Consider for a moment that one of the arguments that has been put forward in the past for talking to the Quetta shura Taliban – to whom the Haqqanis declare allegiance — is that they are stakeholders in the conflict – whether the United States and its allies likes this or not.  However unpopular they might be even among ordinary Afghans, they were once in power in Kabul and they have their own form of shadow governance in parts of Afghanistan. Does the Haqqani network – for so long based in Pakistan and with its alleged ties to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency — still have enough of a constituency in Afghanistan to make them a valid player in a political settlement?

According to Michael Semple, who has spent years working on Afghanistan, it would be more appropriate to label the Haqqani network the “Waziristan Militant Complex”. Writing in Foreign Affairs, he  argues that “the Haqqanis’ lethal effectiveness derives from the wide range of Pakistani tribal fighters at their disposal.

“What is new here, and key to understanding the attack on the embassy (and perhaps even the Rabbani assassination), is that over the last two years the Haqqanis have developed what amounts to a special forces capability. They have built up intelligence-gathering networks and infiltrated government institutions in Kabul and the surrounding provinces. With the help of al Qaeda and Central Asian fighters, foreign militants in Waziristan have developed advanced combat training and technology for roadside bombs. The Haqqanis draw on this expertise without actually controlling the groups who deliver it. Rather than the Haqqani Network, it would be more appropriate to call this the Waziristan Militant Complex.”

In an article written last year, Tom Gregg argued that the United States should open talks with the Haqqanis while Jalaluddin was still well enough to contribute and still command respect within Afghanistan in peace talks.

“Sirajuddin, on the other hand, does not know the meaning of the word. He has been brought up in war, has never lived as a citizen of a functioning nation state, has little to no experience of government, is not a tribal elder and is not even a credible religious leader. In this regard he is motivated more by a radical Islamist ideology than his father, and less obviously constrained by a desire to maintain good relations with the local tribal leaders,” he wrote.

“Sirajuddin is in his early 30′s, grew up in Miram Shah, Pakistan and, prior to 2001, only occasionally traveled to his native village of Garde Serai, nestled in the rugged mountains of Paktia province. In Miram Shah he was involved in Islamic Studies but, unlike his father, did not graduate from a prestigious madrassah and is too young to have been a well-known fighter during the anti-Soviet jihad.”

Personally, I  find it very hard to judge whether the Haqqani network has a role to play in any Afghan settlement. I have heard very powerful arguments on both sides. And in any case it is not my job as a journalist to judge — but rather to keep collating and unearthing the evidence as I go along.

But one thing seems to me can be said with certainty. We should not be allowing a narrative to develop in which the Haqqanis appear to have an obvious role in an Afghan settlement – or at the very least a role which might help the west extract itself from Afghanistan – without knowing more about who they are.

And we should certainly not drift mindlessly into that narrative simply because, or especially because, the U.S. Secretary of State has, historically speaking, invited them into the White House.

(File photo of Presidents Hamid Karzai and Asif Ali Zardari)



I have probably been a bit harsh on the Pakistanis. I was going to say, there have been examples of innovation there too, but these need to be at the forefront. Pakistan is in the news for all the wrong reasons.


It’s really time these guys got rid of the chip on their shoulder and became a normal country. There’s a limit to how many times Indians have to tell them we have no desire to see any harm come to Pakistan, and that we want Pakistan to be peaceful, prosperous and friendly. The message just doesn’t seem to get through, and we hear about the great nuclear weapons again and again. It is frustrating.

For the record, I’m an agnostic, not an atheist.


Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive

Problem is not ordinary Pakistanis. They see what is shown to them by their military rulers. Problem is presence of such people in their military who believe in and promote Islamo-fascist false egos as an excellent means to achieve their petty political goals. Religion is the ultimate political tool for divide and rule. Pakistani generals know it very well. Even their so-called well wishers (like Rex) teach them hatred and violence.

Next time a Pakistani boasts of his country’s nukes, ask him if he is still eating the grass or has he moved on to wheat/rice.

And there is a very thin line between being an agnostic and being an atheist, I take your word on the side of the line you stand.

Posted by 007XXX | Report as abusive

I am a believer not a skeptic about nature or fellow humans and admire those who believe in human excellence and uphold human rights.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

“I guess if the Indians system identifies its people with their castes,therefore this feature should be a plus for the tablet. ”

@Reuters moderators,

If you guys don’t know or don’t understand then let me tell you that statements such as above are RACIST. Now tell me since when has Reuters has given permission to post racist comments here.

Posted by 007XXX | Report as abusive

It is always prudent for all of us to broaden our knowledge of the globalised world including once own country. I do not hold any grudge against no one based on the indidual race or gender. Nor do I quote racist media and there are plenty around, but rely on Govt. institutions and do not question the sincerety of the the individuals such as the jewish programmer from the apple company who has develoed the software without any malice. If you still believe that I have erred then tell your Indian Govt. to stop identifying people from the schedule castes who receive special assistance in the country.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

I have no intention to start a discussion on Hinuism, which is the causual factor for Indian caste system, nor have any interest to refer to Indian constitution which refers to untouchable millions, nor have any interst to quote United Nations accusation of millions of forced child labour and bonded slavery in India,of people who are classified as low caste at birth.

The subject is too complex for me to understand Indian hocus pocus, trying to exists in several centuries simultaneously. This is too much for me!

I am keen to learn about the Haqqanis fate( what is the latest from Godfather?) and in view of sabre rattling and defiance statements coming from Pakistan leaders, am waiting for the response from its military. Perhaps the Americans used the same procedure as in Abotabad, advising ISI the words hot pursuit, special tqrget and went on the target without any hinderence?

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive


Don’t feed the troll.

Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive

What I do not understand here is that on reuters, Indians come out and call Pakistan as a terrorist state, and muslims too. And then complain there are some racist comments posted by someone. How crazy?
I guess reuters is simply providing an opportunity for freedom of expression and debate on issues.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

Reading these comments by both sides is sad. Both India &
Pakistan cant get a footnote together to live and prosper
with each other.Very soon the debt issue will sink Pakistan
and Afghanistan as well as India.Just tell the West meaning the Bankers in Europe & USA how are you going to pay off your debts? Issue paper script? The Rupee is 86.5 to the $
The Afghan is 47.65 to the $ & the Indian Rupee is 49.48 to the $ and guess what maybe the $ might not be the World’s currency What happens then to your Countries ?
I guess Barter, Welcome to the new order!

Posted by Ramonsanto | Report as abusive


How come there’s no article yet on the trade and visa liberalisation happening between India and Pakistan? That’s an important development with the potential to reduce tensions in the subcontinent and change the entire environment in a few years.

Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive

Umairpk:”What I do not understand here is that on reuters, Indians come out and call Pakistan as a terrorist state, and muslims too. And then complain there are some racist comments posted by someone. How crazy?”

OK, let me try again. Indians are concerned with the current state of Pakistan because its environment, which encourages extremism to prevail, affects India (as well the rest of the World). When Terrorists from Pakistan land in Mumbai and blow up people and kill people with impunity, its just not a domestic problem of Pakistan. Its a headache to the world.

But when Indians allegedly discriminate other Indians based on caste, it doesn’t affect pakistan’s a**, neither does it affect rest of the world. Anyways its so funny to feel because, there are so few incidents and you can always pick a case or two from this large nation and brand entire India Communal,Racist etc etc. If there is misgovernance in India or Human right violations in China, people are not really concerned as it doesn’t affect them or rest of the world. A mere concern, for the people who faced the brunt, is what we can show. That’s it.

I was only wondering whether Pakistan government can restrict the suicide attacks, that happen in their country, to Pakistan itself. It seems neither the Afghanistan nor the rest of the world wants it.

Believe me the Communist regimes of Russia(under stalin) and China (under mao) killed millions of their own people and so did the dictators of the middle east. But the world didn’t care as that had not affected them. The problem only starts when these crimes assume a transnational nature. The problem acquires gigantic proportions when world’s most wanted terrorist is found in military complex and when world’s notorious mafia leaders (Dawood) find refuge in there. The problem gets worse when the worst of Islamic extremist ideas find space and recruiting grounds in Pakistan.

When Mao was asked by his colleagues about how to retake the lost province of hong kong, he simply replied “if we could build a paradise in china, I don’t see why British wont handover the province to us and why Hong kongites wont integrate with China”. True to his wishes (and even though China had to painfully transform from communist backwater to capitalist paradise), Hong Kong was handed over by the British, without an eyebrow being raised. This showed chinese determination in positive national building and looking for workable ideas to resolve problems.

Perhaps if the Pakistan were to create a paradise on earth, then perhaps valley Kashmiris may secede from India into the willing arms of Pakistan (honestly a workable Pakistan would suffice). And you can reconcile the fact with your conscience to know which way Pakistan is going. Inspite of all the good people in Pakistan, I think the military generals are seriously confused with the direction of Heaven and Hell and are confusing with the direction of Hell with Heaven.

The daily carnage in Pakistan may be common news for Pakistan, but it is not so for the rest of the world. When only one 9/11 happened, America tried to avenge with full force because it was not normal to take attacks for granted. Although America is also to blame here for cutting a deal with worst kind of Animals they called jihadis, Pity that the Pakistani state still considers these monsters as pets and strategic assets even as they eat into the body politic of Pakistan. Its like a criminal who after stealing is seen by the police but in order to avoid arrest, grabs a piece of grenade, opens the seal and threatens the police that he will throw it. Police just need to wait for the time, the leaking grenade eventually blows taking the life out of the thief.
Pakistan is already holding the grenade (Nuclear Weapon) while its infected fingers (infected due to the cancerous nature of militant environment) may pull the pin even without the Pakistan knowing/volition it. There is still time.

Yes Ganesh, Unfortunately pakistan gets bad press. But nobody is under the illusion that the good things happening in pakistan are strong and forceful enough to stop the slide and a rebound in the promising direction.

Posted by sensiblepatriot | Report as abusive

Pakistan need not acknowledge its mistakes formally, it just needs to change its course. Believe me we all did (India in case of Sri Lanka, America in case of Vietnam, China again in case of Vietnam) and we did silently without accepting anything formally, but what mattered was whether we changed course for the better.

Posted by sensiblepatriot | Report as abusive

Rex: “To attract a wider acceptance of their views many skeptic indivduals from the minority community having no faith in their religious institutions have been declaring themselves as atheists and agnostics.
This is simply a neu masche/new stitch and not any change of faith. The milliband brothers of the UK labour party, who are jewish have declared themselves as agnostics”.

Strange if this was the case with everybody. But Hinduism forcefully propogates the idea of theism, atheism and agnosticism equally. The Vedas which are the fountain head of the religion are themselves agnostic. So maybe that is why the educated Hindus who are aware of this underlying culture are non-commital to particular form of worship or God. Yes I am agnostic too.

Posted by sensiblepatriot | Report as abusive

“Don’t feed the troll.”

Advice accepted. Thanks!

Posted by 007XXX | Report as abusive

“Indians come out and call Pakistan as a terrorist state, and muslims too”

When did Indians call muslims as terrorist? Terrorist call themselves as muslims. There is HUGE difference. And if you do not know the difference then go back to engineering college. Such an utterly stupid statement coming from an engineer is a shame. I have lived in India for 28 years (all my life) and have travelled a lot and met a lot of people; I have never come across a non-muslim who does not have a muslim friend and I have never come across a muslim who does not have a non-muslim friend. And these demographics are changing even faster in next generation. Probably thats why the pakistani jingoists and well wishers call muslims in India as “pseudo-muslims”. Now tell me who is calling muslims a bad name?

Posted by 007XXX | Report as abusive

Pagan-infidel-buddhist-hindu-skeptic-unb eliever-nonbeliever-disbeliever-atheist and agnostic are the stiches of a chain and has been the histpory of people who despite the appearance of prophets of God and the scriptures have remained outside the communities of believers. Human righta and moral ethics which the mankind learnt from the scriptures have now been enshrined in the constitutions of the western nations.
@sensible Patriot, it does not matter if you or your fellow countrymen are now declared atheists or agnostics, I have respect for them because according to my belief all humans are the children of God almighty. Indians should however stop practicing group politics and commit mobbing which are illegal in the civilised world.

To resolve Indian and Pakistan conflict, both parties must recognise that peace in the subcontinent can only come when international law and human rights becomes the basis and not on status quo, India being a stronger and larger country and therefore Pakistan must accept the reality. Indians must not ignore History; muslim invading armies have not shied away from unsuccessful battles but persisted in further attacks until they were successful and then ruled India for a very long period. This is my opinion and is not meant for anyone to take it personaly. People of Pakistan have many nations within and they are not soft targets for the USA. Needless to say that Pakistan military and civilian leaders have made strategic mistakes and maintained love hate relationship with India and played a double game with the USA; but this can easily be attributed to their colonial past. Nevertheless, I certainly am not going to underestimate(unterstellung)them and let no one should mess about with

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

“What happens then to your Countries?”

Hmm although this is not a forum for economic discussions but since u have asked so let me tell you that Indian currency is NOT pegged against $. I think you are confusing Chinese Yuan with Indian Rupee. India very recently converted a large amount of US dollars and US bonds into Gold and this trend is likely to continue. What you miss by and large is the spirit of enterprise and invention, that is so much absent in western world’s complacency of decade long growth, and is so much present in Afghan, Pakistan and Indian people. Yes even the ordinary people on streets in this region think of enterprise and believe in human innovation and are hard working to the core. The only problem is politics and use of religion for politics in the region which I believe will take its own course as per changing environment.

Now Welcome to barter system! What does western world has to offer in return for Afghan apples and pomegranates, in return for Indian enterprise, technology innovation and agriculture, in return for Chinese cheap labour and quick reverse engineering??? Banks, derivatives, dollar, pound?? No we don’t need them anymore. Yes WE will have to write down western world’s HUGE debts but that will definitely involve cost for west. Any idea on how much of Spain does China OWN??

Probably US came to recognize this barter much earlier than rest and hence the nuclear energy pact with India.

Is Obama still afraid of Indian children spending more time in their classrooms than those in US??

Posted by 007XXX | Report as abusive


Now here u are accusing Pakistan forgeting that those were indian officials who were saying that they have the bomb and Pakistanis should walk with their heads down. Pakistan entered the nuclear race very late, and yes even if u ask any Pakistani that are u still eating the grass, they will proudly say yes they still are eating grass and exporting their wheat to get the money to make the bombs. Sometimes one has to admit the mistakes made in the past to get a good start. Why not india and Pakistan both decide to disarm them from these useless nukes. Coz even if there is a war b/w these two countries, regardless of who is victorious i never wanted my army to use such a dreadful thing on humanity. So i want this crap to be destroyed.

Posted by Abdul_Basit | Report as abusive

@ sensible patriot
ur wrong abt the communist killing their people not effecting the world thing, when Gaddafi was killing his own people to maintain peace in Libya then why the world was shouting abt it. Now see what NATO has done there, they gave the revolts so much weapon that they are now killing whole tribes who supported gaddafi and they have turned into war lords. Now for the next 20 years it will be the safe heaven of american proxies a.k.a terrorists.
I am happy Pakistan is finding its way out of the US alliance.

Posted by Abdul_Basit | Report as abusive

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