On September 3rd, 2018, Taliban released a statement on Twitter announcing that Jalaluddin Haqqani had died of a chronic illness.
Prior to his death, Haqqani had been bedridden for years and his only contribution to his network was ideological. So even though his death will not impact the Haqqani network’s day-to-day operations, the absence of a figure that could mediate between leaders of different terrorist groups could nudge Afghanistan toward further chaos.
It is not just the terrorist forces that respected Haqqani, during the Afghan-Soviet war; he was one of CIA’s most prized assets in the region. Although major news outlets reporting on his death did briefly mention his close ties with the US, they failed to report their full extent.
BBC reporting on Haqqani’s death under the heading “CIA ‘Prized Asset’” only has one line that establishes his connection with the United States.
As if not disclosing the true extent of his ties with the United States wasn’t intellectually dishonest enough, the BBC report then abruptly says that Haqqani allied himself to Taliban when they came into power in 1996.
The statement above is not only incomplete it’s inaccurate. Haqqani switched his allegiance to Taliban in 1995, not 1996. That’s a whole year before the Taliban occupation of Kabul. The BBC statement gives the impression that Haqqani allied himself to the Taliban so he could enjoy the power when in reality he fought against the Soviets with Taliban for years.
Secondly, Haqqani was a major power player in the Afghan-Soviet war and served as a conduit to funnel billions of dollars in cash and ammunition into Afghanistan. Because of his role in the resistance against the Soviets, he had already served as a Justice Minister in 1992 after Kabul fell to Mujahedeens.
Haqqani’s death gave major media outlets an opportunity to highlight the forgotten lessons of Afghanistan especially as the US tries to arm and fund the similar types of guerrilla forces in Iran and Syria that it propped up in Afghanistan.
Here is a brief anecdote in an effort to reveal a truer extent of ties between Jalaluddin Haqqani and the US.
When the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan were united against the communist government in Afghanistan, Haqqani was one of US’s favorite. His family owned businesses on each side of the Afghan-Pakistan border so when the US wanted to transport millions of dollars in cash and millions of dollars worth of ammunition and artillery, they would funnel it through Jalaluddin Haqqani. His coordination with the US administrations was not limited to logistics; he commanded guerilla troops himself against the Soviet-led Afghan forces.
CIA quickly learned that Haqqani was good at killing Soviets and showed no mercy. He called them ‘infidel invaders’ and the basis of his resistance to Soviet forces was purely ideological. Haqqani did not fight for money, power, or prestige, he genuinely believed that a foreign army had no business controlling his country, a stance that would see him pinned against his Washington allies.
The United States, too focused on containing the Soviet influence, paid no attention to the long-term impacts of handing over cash and advanced weaponry to fundamentalist ideologues. Had the aim of the US been to liberate Afghans from the influence of a foreign power, the aid and support to the Afghan guerrillas might have been justifiable. But that was not the case. The US wanted Afghanistan controlled, just not by the Soviets.
As Haqqani succeeded against the Soviet-led forces in battleground after battleground, CIA handed him the infrastructure to build his network. A former senior CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar argued that Haqqani network is stronger than it would have been without the assistance rendered back in the 1980s.
One of the ways the CIA radicalized the Afghan youth was by spending $50 million to distribute textbooks that contained violent images and glorified militant Islam. At that time, Afghans were a moderate people but to make the resistance to Soviets more persistent and brutal, the US promoted Haqqani’s radical Islamist views, which led to the tradition of suicide bombings that Afghanistan still suffers from.
Regardless, Haqqani received great praise from the American lawmakers. President Reagan sent him millions of dollars in cash and Charlie Wilson, a Congressman from Texas referred to Haqqani as ‘goodness personified’. Wilson even visited Mujahideen in Afghanistan and took photos with them wearing their attire.
The Soviets finally left but the religious extremism that the US and Haqqani had espoused did not just evaporate. It turned Afghanistan into a hotbed of fratricidal conflicts. The CIA-sponsored textbooks that would serve as a school curriculum for millions of Afghan children for years to come gave internal power struggles a religious character.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it was US’s turn to invade and control Afghanistan. Haqqani, who was as opposed to an invasion of Afghanistan by Soviets as by any other nation, resisted the NATO forces. Officials from the Bush administration use Haqqani’s refusal to hand over Bin Laden as one of the justifications for the Afghan invasion while they do not even allude to offers made by other senior Taliban commanders to extradite Bin Laden.
Where resisting a foreign invader 30 years ago had made Haqqani a freedom fighter, a hero in the eyes of the United States, now turned him into a terrorist.
To Haqqani and thousands of his followers, nothing has changed since the 1980s; they are still in an unrelenting struggle against a foreign occupying force.