Elderly, ill, and partially paralyzed, the founder of one of Afghanistan’s most notorious and brazen extremist organizations had been out of the insurgency game for years. But Jalaluddin Haqqani leaves behind a legacy of deadly violence that threatens to live on for decades.
Haqqani, whose death at the age of 72 was announced on September 4, was a key mujahedin commander in the war against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, he founded the eponymous Haqqani network, which quickly earned a reputation for brazen, high-profile attacks. And he ensured long ago that his fight would continue by handing the reins of his organization over to his son, Sirajuddin, who today also serves as the deputy leader of a key ally, the Afghan Taliban.
Experts say Haqqani’s far-reaching legacy is secure and that neither his network’s military might nor strategy are likely to be affected by his death.
The Haqqani network is notorious for its heavy use of suicide bombers in complex, urban attacks, indiscriminately killing civilians and Afghan and foreign security forces alike.
The group was blamed for the horrific truck bomb in the capital, Kabul, in May 2017 that killed around 150 people, although Sirajuddin later denied involvement.
The network was also blamed for some of the deadliest attacks carried out against foreigners, including a suicide bomb attack at a CIA base in the eastern province of Khost in 2009 that killed seven agents and wounded six.
“Haqqani helped the Taliban recalibrate after the U.S. invasion in 2001 because they had the setup and local support in Pakistan’s tribal areas to mount significant attacks across the border in Afghanistan,” says Hameed Hakimi, a research associate at the London-based think tank Chatham House.
“By having a suicide brigade, Haqqani also helped the Taliban create a much fiercer image. The complexity of the insurgency and the complexity of the attacks would not have happened without the alliance with the Haqqanis,” he adds.
During the 1990s, Haqqani was a minister in the Taliban regime, which took power in Kabul in 1996. The Taliban, which brought its own fundamentalist brand of Sunni Islam to the scene and emerged victorious from the Afghan civil war, embraced Haqqani for his military skills, according to a declassified 1998 cable from the U.S. Embassy.
He was the only major mujahedin leader to join the Taliban and forged a close relationship with the late Taliban founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
‘Close Buddies’ With Arab Fighters
Al-Qaeda’s influence on the network materialized in the post-2001 insurgency.
“What made Haqqani unique was his special relationship with non-Afghan, foreign terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaeda,” says Omar Samad, an analyst and former Afghan ambassador who has advised senior Afghan officials.
“This relationship played a role in sharing new tactics and cross-training with those who used and justified suicide attacks as part of what they consider ‘jihad,’ or holy war,” he says, describing the tactic as “an imported phenomenon that was not used in Afghanistan prior to 2001.”
During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Haqqani used his Arabic language skills to forge close ties with Arab jihadists, including Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, who came to the region during the war.
With funds from bin Laden, Haqqani established dozens of radical religious schools along the Afghan-Pakistan border, spreading a fundamentalist Islamic ideology. Haqqani also established training camps for Arab fighters that were later used by Al-Qaeda during the Taliban regime.
Many of the Arab fighters that still remain in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri, are believed to be protected by the Haqqani network in Pakistan’s tribal belt.
A declassified 1998 cable from the U.S. Embassy said Haqqani “is close buddies with many Arab and Pakistani Islamists.”
‘Veritable Tool’ For Pakistan
The Haqqanis have long been suspected of links to Pakistan’s shadowy military establishment and its notorious spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI).
Much of the group’s ties with Pakistan were forged by Haqqani during the 1980s, when the guerrilla leader was one of the main beneficiaries of Pakistani and CIA money and weapons.
Haqqani’s prowess during the jihad against the U.S.S.R.’s occupation of Afghanistan earned him praise from Washington. Haqqani was hailed by the late U.S. congressman Charlie Wilson as “goodness personified.” He also visited the White House, and President Ronald Reagan once described him as a freedom fighter.
The Haqqani network was described by U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen in 2011 as a “veritable arm” of Pakistani intelligence that has provided safe havens for militant groups fighting foreign and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.
Designated a terrorist group by Washington in 2012, the Haqqanis are believed to have been operating from Pakistan’s restive tribal region since 2001. The Haqqani family hails from eastern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.
“The Haqqanis have been a veritable tool and valuable asset for Pakistan in the past four decades,” says Haroun Mir, a Kabul-based political analyst. “This is the reason why the Pakistani military has never abandoned them, even in the face of tremendous pressure from the United States.”
Mir says Haqqani will be remembered as a “resistance hero in the 1980s and later [as] someone who strictly followed the Pakistani directive against the interests of his own people.”