Reviewed By Muzamil Jaleel
Book: Fountainhead of Jihad
Author: Vahid Brown and Don Rassler
Publisher: Hachette India
Price: Rs 650
As the US prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, it isn't the Taliban that worries New Delhi. It is the Haqqani network, a group based on either side of the Durand Line that forms the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan and includes Loya Paktia in Afghanistan and North Waziristan in Pakitan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Although the Haqqanis consider themselves part of the Taliban, under the command of the Quetta Shura, they will be significant players in the next phase of the Great Game. Indo-Pak competition for influence in Afghanistan is a reality and the void left by the US can have regional implications. Pakistan stands at a significant moment, preparing to elect a second democratic government, which would have a calming effect. But if Islamabad decides to play its hand, the Americans believe that the Haqqani network would be their preferred partner.
Seen through American eyes, this book explores the security debate over Afghanistan, US-Pak relations and Al Qaeda's future. Authors Vahid Brown and Don Rassler have been involved with the Combating Terrorism Center's (CTC) Harmony Research Programme at West Point, launched in 2005 to "contextualize the inner functioning of Al Qaida… and other security threats through primary source documents".
Although the authors have reviewed Haqqani publications, other memoirs and first person narratives, they have looked through only the lens of counter-terrorism. Besides, the authors' premise seems a little alarmist and at times they draw hasty, subjective conclusions. But they make the larger point that a deal with the Taliban, excluding the Haqqanis, will not prevent the return of Al Qaeda in Kabul.
The Americans believe that the Haqqanis are giving Al Qaeda fighters safe haven on the Durand Line. New Delhi should be apprehensive because the network had first made headlines with a suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul on July 7, 2008. The authors say that the explosive message delivered by the 22-year-old Pakistani bomber, which killed Brigadier Ravi Datt Mehta, India's defense attache in Afghanistan: Islamabad viewed India's increasing influence in Afghanistan as a threat.
Then the US blamed the network for a 20-hour attack on Kabul's diplomatic enclave in September, 2011. Days later, testifying before the US Senate, Admiral Mike Mullen called the Haqqani network a "veritable arm" of the Pakistani ISI. Although the US military considered it to be "the most tactically proficient enemy we face in Afghanistan", they believed that it "presented a limited strategic threat". Now, this book goes beyond this "standard view regarding Haqqanis" to call them "the fountainhead of jihad".
The authors candidly admit that the US and Pakistan had enabled the Haqqanis to establish this fountainhead during the Soviet conflict. In fact, 20 per cent of US assistance to the Afghan Mujahideen went to the Haqqanis. The network has its history in the rebellion against prime minister Daud Khan, the Soviet-leaning Pashtun nationalist who had overthrown King Zahir Shah in 1973. This is when Jalaludin, called Haqqani because he had attended the madrassa of Darul Uloom Haqqania, and set up base in north Waziristan as a top leader of Hizb-e-Islami. After a split in 1979, he joined Commander Younis Khalis's faction. His influence grew when he seized Khost and Urgun in 1983. His godfather Khalis led an Afghan Mujahideen delegation to the US and met President Reagan in February, 1983. At the time, like Bin Laden, Afghan Mujahideen leaders were the "moral equivalent of America's forefathers".
But the book concludes that "direct American support to the Haqqani network ended in the early 1990s; the Pakistani state relationship continues to this day." It quotes Washington Post's Joby Warrick on failed negotiations after 9/11 when the US had demanded "unconditional surrender" including "Haqqani's personal acquiescence to donning an orange jumpsuit and joining other prisoners at Guantanamo Bay." The US designated the group as a foreign terrorist organisation in 2012, Meanwhile, Jalaludin Haqqani's wife, sister, sister-in-law and eight grandchildren had been killed in a drone attack in 2008. His two sons were also killed in similar circumstances. As America prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan, why isn't it willing to review its failed post-9/11 strategy and accept that a military solution is impossible? How will they deal with the Haqqanis after 2014?
Contradictory conclusions litter the book. While it regards the network as a strategic asset of the Pakistani state, it also claims that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) relies on its support. Then it insists that the network provides sanctuary to Al Qaeda. TTP has directed all its violence against the Pakistani state and even killed Benazir Bhutto, and Al Qaeda is also in violent confrontation with the state. How can Pakistan's strategic asset help its sworn enemies?
The book also talks about fissures between the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda, of Mullah Omar's fear that Bin Laden sidestepped his authority. There is also an attempt to paint the Haqqani network as less radical than the Taliban. If the Haqqanis "took exception to the Taliban's repressive interpretations of Islamic orthodoxy", there was no convincing reason for the Haqqanis to stay within Mullah Omar's Taliban.
The assertion that Abu'l Walid Al Masri was the architect of global jihad is not convincing. The Egyptian journalist went to Afghanistan in the 1980s, Jalaludin's first Arab recruit. When the Taliban seized power, he became involved in its media activities. Today, he writes for the Taliban's Al-Samoud magazine.
From 1998 to 2001, he served as Al Jazeera's bureau chief in Afghanistan, fled Afghanistan after 9/11, has written 12 books and is a formidable historian of the Afghan Jihad. Did Masri convince Bin Laden to attack American targets or was he a critic of Al Qaeda who blamed Bin Laden for destroying the Taliban and Afghanistan? The conclusion that he was the architect of global jihad is not backed by enough evidence.
The Indian Express, 4 May 2013