(Submitted by Muhammad Anwar Pasha)


How a person one would never think of entering extremist politics has emerged as the prominent leader of Afghan resistance following the same method as the Taliban.


In his teen years, Sirajuddin Haqqani was known among friends as a dandy. He cared more about the look of his thick black hair than the battles his father, a mujahideen warlord in the 1980s, was waging with Russia for control of Afghanistan.


The younger Mr. Haqqani is still a stylish sort, say those who know him. But now, approaching middle age and ensconced as the battlefield leader of his father’s militant army, he has become ruthless in his own pursuit of an Afghanistan free from foreign influence. This time the enemy is the U.S. and its allies.


From outposts along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, his Haqqani network is waging a campaign that has made the Afghan insurgency deadlier. He has widened the use of suicide attacks, which became a Taliban mainstay only in the past few years. U.S. officials believe his forces carried out the dramatic Monday gun, grenade and suicide-bomb attack in Kabul on Afghan government ministries and a luxury hotel. The assault claimed five victims plus seven attackers.


Mr. Haqqani also aided the Dec. 30 attack by an al Qaeda operative that killed seven Central Intelligence Agency agents and contractors at a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan, say militant commanders. And he orchestrated last year’s assault on a United Nations guesthouse that killed five U.N. staffers, along with other attacks in the capital.


In a rare interview with The Wall Street Journal conducted by email and telephone last month, Mr. Haqqani declared, “We have managed to besiege the Afghan government. We sustain very few causalities; we can inflict heavy casualties to the enemy’s side.”


That message is problematic for a key plank of the U.S. military’s Afghan “surge” which is based on a strategy of applying sufficient pressure on some Taliban leaders that they will negotiate for terms acceptable to Washington. On Tuesday, the Obama administration lent cautious support to the Afghan government’s new outreach effort to the Taliban—a show of optimism that lower-level militants would reconcile with Kabul even if senior leaders continued fighting.


The rise of Mr. Haqqani, who is in his late 30s or early 40s, is part of a broader changing of the guard in the Afghan militant movement. A younger generation of commanders have helped transform the Taliban from a peasant army that harbored al Qaeda and was routed by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 into a formidable guerrilla force that killed a record 520 Western troops last year.


Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar and his inner circle—believed to be based in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta—still provide overall leadership of the Taliban movement. Osama bin Laden still rallies the al Qaeda faithful. But more than either man, Mr. Haqqani is at the fulcrum of the Afghan rebellion and its twin uprising in Pakistan’s northwestern mountains. His base in North Waziristan, on the Pakistani side of the border, has become arguably the most important Islamist militant haven in the region, say U.S. and Pakistani officials. It attracts aspiring jihadis from around the globe, such as the five young Americans arrested last month in Pakistan who were allegedly on their way there.


Mr. Haqqani has emerged as a powerbroker on both sides of the border. He has ties to almost every major faction in the confederation of groups operating under the Taliban umbrella. He has the strongest links to al Qaeda of any major Taliban faction, say U.S. officials and Pakistani experts. While pledging allegiance to Mullah Omar, he operates independently, choosing his own targets and only loosely coordinating with the Taliban’s supreme leadership.


Mr. Haqqani showed his sway when the Pakistani Taliban, an offshoot of Afghanistan’s Taliban, were on the verge of a bloody struggle following the death of its leader in a U.S. airstrike this summer. He called the major factions to North Waziristan to settle the dispute, telling them they must “follow the path of a great leader….You should save your bullets for your true enemies,” said a tribal elder who attended the meeting.


Within days, the Pakistan Taliban’s leadership was settled. The group has since repeatedly set off bombs in major cities and sent teams of gunmen to attack symbolic targets, including the headquarters of Pakistan’s military.



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