For America, Pakistan remains the fall guy
Mullah Omar's last command as emir, just as the Taleban regime fell, was appointing him commander of the military.
What a moment for Jalaluddin Haqqani, Founder of the Haqqani Network, to kick the bucket. United States President Donald Trump's is the third administration to grow sick of Pakistan's alleged obsession with the Haqqani Network (HN), which Jalaluddin stitched together with comrades from the old Soviet war. Mullah Omar's last command as emir, just as the Taleban regime fell, was appointing him commander of the military. According to American sources -- information squeezed out of inmates at Guantanamo, no doubt -- he was tasked with helping Omar's Arab friends, including Osama bin Laden, escape the Americans vengeance into Pakistan.
Since then HN has been the biggest thorn in the American side and pretty much responsible for everything that has gone wrong in the long Afghan war. It got the insurgency up and running when Omar had fled and the rest of the Taleban leadership was decimated. And, while Taleban proper was taking up land all over the periphery, only it had the resources and ability to strike deep into Kabul's fortified Green Zone, rattling the American and Afghan governments alike.
The Americans are convinced that Pakistan never cut its umbilical cord with the Afghan Taleban as well as the Haqqanis even after it publically dumped the Taleban regime after 9/11. And Washington-Islamabad friction on the matter goes back to the Bush-Musharraf days. Pakistan vehemently denies all charges, of course, but almost everybody in America and Afghanistan is convinced that Pakistan played HN against them throughout the war.
American's top commander in 2011, Admiral Mike Mullen, said the Network acted as "a veritable arm of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency," blatantly accusing Pakistan of "exporting violent extremism" to Afghanistan to undermine the war effort. When Trump took office -- and repeated surges, draw-downs and attempts at negotiations had failed - the Americans finally decided to punish Pakistan. It was because of the Network, primarily, that Islamabad was grey-listed by the FATF (Financial Action Task Force), an international organisation developed to combat money laundering. And it was because of HN that the White House cut off Islamabad's lifeline (free money) and got the Pentagon to stop all training programmes.
But now that Jalaluddin has finally died, in his 80s, the press will be forced to pry open his past, and find out just how he grew to be so wealthy, powerful and influential. It wasn't that long ago, as the Pakistanis will surely remind their angry American friends, that the CIA cultivated a spirited and ambitious Islamist as a 'unilateral asset' as the agency partnered with ISI to build an Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation.
Then in his 40s, Jalaluddin was the first prototype of the so-called soldier-cleric which made up the mujahideen. He soon impressed both CIA and ISI by his operational accuracy at a time when proxies had to spend months in the field with zero contact with their backers. And, since medical kits found on Afghan fighters would have amounted to announcing sponsorship of the resistance, the best equipment they could carry were axes; for on-the-spot amputations.
This, of course, was when the Evil Empire (Soviets) had attacked the free world (Afghanistan) and the mujahideen suddenly erupted as the darlings of the free world. US president then, Ronald Reagan, invited their leadership to the White House and said they were "the moral equivalent of our founding fathers," even though his administration later tried to distance itself from the comment. Newspaper reports from the time suggest Haqqani also visited the House, though he is not seen in the famous picture of turbaned warlords surrounding the US president; everybody smiling ear-to-ear. But famous Congressman Charlie Wilson clearly met him more than once, and called him "goodness personified."
Then, as everybody knows, America and Pakistan broke nearly every international law and drowned the mujahideen in arms and money, sucking a good half-a-dozen countries into their secret alliance. That money, arms and string of victories provided Jalaluddin with the stature that got him ministries when the mujahideen ran Kabul as well as in the Taleban regime. The Americans invited him for talks just before the 2001 invasion, as did Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai when forming his interim government, but he refused both times. His death will make no difference to his Network, which his son Sirajuddin now runs successfully enough to confound the Americans at every turn.
For its part Pakistan points to its own war, 70,000 dead, costly military operation and string of unending suicide attacks as proof of abandoning the clerics. When Islamabad began fencing the long, porous Pak-Afghan border -- to check infiltration that upsets Washington and Kabul so much -- the Americans and Afghans both got very upset without much of an explanation; just like nobody explained just how 'Mr Goodness Personified' grew into the villain that is bent upon bleeding them, just like the Soviets in the 1980s, by a thousand cuts. Instead, unable to defeat the insurgency, America is venting its frustration on Pakistan, arguably the only player in the game than might still be able to influence the Taleban and help the Americans save face and walk away just before it's too late.
- Shahab Jafry is a senior journalist based in Pakistan