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Asia-Pacific

Haqqani network founder's death will not calm US-Pakistan tensions

media Jalaluddin Haqqani (R), the Taliban's Minister for Tribal Affairs, points to a map of Afghanistan during a visit to Islamabad, Pakistan, October 19, 2001, as his son Naziruddin (L) looks on. REUTERS

The Taliban in Afghanistan announced via Twitter on Tuesday that the founder of the Haqqani network, Jalaluddin Haqqani, has died after a long illness. The network is one of Afghanistan's most effective and feared armed groups. The exact date and location of Haqqani’s death are unknown.

The Haqqani network rose to prominence during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, when the CIA used them to fight the Russians.

They even became part of popular culture, featuring in the Hollywood movie  Charlie Wilson's War, starring Tom Hanks as a maverick US senator who met  Haqqani, and, more recently, in episodes of Showtime’s Homeland series.

The Haqqani group has proved to be one of the most resilient amongst Taliban fighters in Afghanistan
Afghanistan: Haqqani leader dead 04/09/2018 - by Jan van der Made Listen

Haqqani was seen as a US asset "because it suited the purposes of the CIA as a liaison to the mujaheddin [anti-Soviet fighters] who wanted to drive out the Russians from Afghanistan,” says Imtiaz Gul, the director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad.

“And that was a narrative convenient at that time.”

But after the Soviets left the Americans weren’t interested anymore.

Left to their own devices, the Haqqanis joined forces with other movements that had emerged from the mujaheddin - al-Qaeda and the Taliban - to fight US forces who had come to Afghanistan after 9-11.

“The relationship between the Taliban and the Haqqani Network was obviously very good,” says Gul.

“It was a sort of an alliance of like-minded organisations, that’s why they stuck together. The Haqqani network has mainly been responsible for operations in eastern Afghanistan, it was the strongest link within the Afghan insurgency against the US-led Nato-Isaf forces.”

On Wednesday US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Pakistan, just days after the White House said it would cut aid worth 300 million dollars (260 million euros) to Pakistan, accusing Islamabad of not doing enough fighting terrorism.

Analysts point out that the Haqqani network is one of the best-funded organisations fighting in Afghanistan.

“The Haqqani group has proved to be one of the most resilient amongst Taliban fighters in Afghanistan,” says Ferzana Shaikh, author of the book Making Sense of Pakistan and a fellow with Chatham House in London.

“They have also been the source of much controversy, especially involving Pakistan, which is alleged to be supporting members of the Taliban group."

She points out that for many years Pakistan’s alleged support for this group has led to difficulties in the diplomatic sphere, particularly in Pakistan’s relations with the US.

The US "continuously pressed Pakistan to take action against the Haqqani group for the simple reason that the Haqqani group are routinely blamed for staging some of the most spectacular attacks against US forces in Afghanistan”, she says.

Jalaluddin Haqqani's death is not a major blow to the network.

He had been seriously ill for some time and the day-to-day management was in the hands of his son, Sirajuddin.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s new prime minister, Imran Khan, is unlikely to change the country's attitude to the Afghan armed groups.

He has criticised US military action against them and advocated dialogue.

That may not go down well with Pompeo:

"The United States and the Trump administration have made it no secret that Pakistan’s actions against terrorist groups lacks, and particularly the Haqqani group, will be on top of the agenda,” says Shaikh.

“Pakistan believes that these allegations against its support for the Haqqani group are misplaced, and that they lack a foundation.”

Islamabad claims Washington’s suspension of aid is unjustified and denies having official links to the Haqqani group.

“So I think it is fair to assume that tomorrow’s discussions between the US and Pakistan are likely to start off on a rather tense note,” Shaikh says.

“The Pakistani government has said it will act according to its own interests,” adds Gul.

“It cannot jeopardise peace and security of Pakistan by accepting the US demands, which is basically asking for direct military action against the Taliban and other militant organizations which are operating in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region."

Neither Jalaluddin Haqqani's death or Mike Pompeo's visit look likely to resolve the latest crisis in US-Pakistan relations.

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