America Must Confront Pakistan's Support of Afghan-Based Terrorism

A woman cries as she holds a lit candle for the victims of Wednesday's blast in Kabul, Afghanistan June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

As the Trump administration should consider creating new pressure points that raise the cost and pain level for Pakistan's support of terrorism inside Afghanistan.

Kabul is mourning after a spate of deadly attacks over the past few weeks, including a truck bomb that killed nearly 150 people in the capital’s diplomatic district. These security setbacks have plunged Kabul into a crisis. The Pakistan-based Haqqani Network was behind the gruesome truck bomb that carried 1,500 kilograms of explosives, according to the Afghanistan’s CIA-backed intelligence agency. The Haqqani Network has been active for over thirty years and has conducted similar signature strikes in Afghanistan in the past to inflict fear. Due to the many civilian casualties the Kabul attack caused, the network has denied involvement to ensure the group maintains its grassroots support.

The group’s leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani, was one of the jihadi leaders who settled in Miramshah, a town in Pakistan’s North Waziristan, in the 1970s before the Soviet invaded Afghanistan. Besides its base in Miramshah, the Haqqanis maintained a strong presence in eastern Afghanistan. At the time, the senior Haqqani sought to overthrow former Afghan president Daoud Khan’s regime. Khan was a nationalist who resisted regional meddling in Afghan affairs.

The Haqqanis’ desire attracted the attention of Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, also known as the ISI, and has since remained a loyal ISI proxy. Jalaluddin soon became one of the key resistance leaders after the Soviets entered Afghanistan. Aiding his effort were the United States and Saudi Arabia, who sent money and weapons through the ISI. (The United States went so far as to reportedly host Jalaluddin at the White House to meet with President Ronald Reagan.)

Since the 1990s, however, the group has closely aligned itself with both Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Jalaluddin allowed Al Qaeda to establish its first camps in Afghanistan in Haqqani territory and became a close friend of Osama bin Laden. After the 9/11 attacks, the group switched sides and turned its battle skills on the current U.S.-backed Afghan government and NATO forces to cater to Pakistan’s agenda in Afghanistan.

Although the Haqqanis operate semi‐autonomously within the wider Taliban movement, the group’s evolving role in leading the Afghan insurgency from behind the scene has pointedly altered the dynamics of the insurgency.

The Haqqani network is a relatively small, clan and family-based organization that operates under a centralized decisionmaking body, though it is decentralized in its execution. The group has leveraged its clan-based alliances to consolidate its power by serving as a key mediator for business and tribal disputes, marginalizing or defeating its rivals, and assuming a subordinate role in its relations with other militant groups, including the Taliban. This approach has enabled the group to not only preserve its operational and financial autonomy but also to benefit from the resources of other groups, including weapons and manpower. At present, Siraj Haqqani, one of the Haqqani sons, also serves as the deputy head of the Taliban movement.

More importantly, the Haqqani leaders have concomitantly pursued power and wealth through both their perverse ideology and ruthlessness. Their profit-driven motivation has increasingly transformed the group into a mafia-like criminal enterprise, which relies deeply on its complex fundraising network and the unfettered operating space provided by Pakistan.

During the Taliban regime, the senior Haqqani used his authority as the Taliban’s border and tribal affairs minister to solidify his control over the border region. As a result, the group managed to carve out a lucrative business enterprise through a diverse set of financial activities, including extortion, kidnapping for ransom, drug trafficking, protection rackets for illicit smuggling rings, foreign donations and money laundering schemes via front companies.

Since then, the group has regularly collected taxes from landowners, trucking businesses, and construction companies, and its leaders reportedly maintain ownership stakes in a diverse number of companies. In order for any business to operate in the group’s territory, it must benefit the Haqqani leaders.