The death of Jalaluddin Haqqani is not operationally significant, but the man's life contains within it the story of the last three decades of war in Afghanistan.

The announcement by the Taliban that the founder of the Haqqani network, Jalaluddin Haqqani, passed away due to natural causes brings into stark focus the futility of the American-led war in Afghanistan.

The death of Haqqani, inside Afghanistan, shall have little consequence on the practical trajectory of the Afghan war as he had long ceased to be the tactical leader of an insurgency that now has multiple heads with no clear visibility of who actually commands the group.

The former US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen was never in any doubt that the feared Haqqani network was a ‘veritable arm’ of the Pakistan military’s premier spy agency, the Inter-Services-Intelligence (ISI). 

However, the enigma of the senior Haqqani who passed away has continued to haunt US policy makers for more than three decades. Very rarely has a man from a non-state group gone from obscurity to being described by the former US President Ronald Reagan as a freedom fighter, to then being labelled as Osama Bin Laden’s cohort in terrorism – thereby ending up on America’s Most Wanted list.

'Goodness personified' and America’s pivot against the Soviets 

The charismatic US Congressman, Charlie Wilson, who ran the American-led effort to unseat the Soviets from Afghanistan, talked about Jalaluddin Haqqani as "goodness personified". Then there were the leaked US Cables which described him as recently as the late 1990s as a ‘moderate socialist’.

A former head of the CIA, whilst speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Haqqani was, "one of the good ones". The same CIA chief said that he had delivered suitcases full of US dollars to Haqqani regularly. It was on Haqqani, that the CIA, ISI and the Saudi intelligence services pivoted to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. Everyone was aware of the links that Haqqani was making with men like Osama bin Laden and the other leaders of the Arab brigade that had come to join the fight against the Soviets.

Indeed, there was a clash between various elements of the American administration in the 1980s as to whom the money should go to amongst the Afghan fighters. Peter Tomsen, the former US Ambassador and Special Envoy to Afghanistan, goes into some detail in his book, The Wars of Afghanistan, that the CIA were too devoted in their blind support and allegiance to the ISI when it came to picking the fighters in Afghanistan.

Here is why Jalaluddin Haqqani’s story reflects the never-ending American quagmire in Afghanistan, now in its 17th year. The ending of the film, Charlie Wilson’s war, is the beginning of the ironic and tragic drawn out process that has led to the current stalemate of the Afghan War. 

Whilst Congressman, Charlie pleaded not to ignore Afghanistan and the likes of Haqqani, the United States looked the other way and Afghanistan’s real descent into anarchy began the day the Soviets actually left Afghanistan. The case for and against Haqqani is the same as the case for or against war in Afghanistan.

Haqqani as a mirror to Afghanistan and Pakistan 

Milt Bearden, the former CIA station chief in Islamabad, and one of the key strategists of the Afghan policy of the cold war, said in his testimony to the US Senate in 2009 that, “the war in Afghanistan as of 2009 was the 28th year of US involvement and not the 9th year.” 

Bearden, also went on to become station chief in Berlin when the Berlin Wall came down and was one of the most decorated officers in the agency’s history. It was Bearden again who authored an article, saying that Pakistan was also part and parcel of the war in Afghanistan and should be understood in that context, and also their links to the Haqqanis. Whilst Bearden did not name the Haqqanis by name, it is understood, this is what he meant when talking about clearing North Waziristan back in 2009.

It is a well-known fact, all the US pressure for the Pakistan Army to go into the rugged region was focusing on driving the Haqqanis out. It was Milt in both his testimony and writings that said that rather than criticise Pakistan, the new American leaders must understand that Pakistan was simply doing what the Americans and the rest of the Cold War alliance had also done. This fact was also confirmed, by former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, whilst she was saying that Pakistan was left to deal with the thousands of militants—and millions of refugees—as the Americans withdrew after the fall of the Soviet Union.

That Charlie Wilson, Milt Bearden and Hillary Clinton, all referred to the fact that Americans must be introspective about their own faults, has been a summary of the Afghan war and Haqqani.

Haqqani as a solution to the end-game in Afghanistan? 

Haqqani’s son, Sirajuddin has for almost a decade now been the main leader that was running day to day operations of the network and to some extent the strategic direction of the Taliban. The Haqqani Network is blamed for some of the most brutal attacks and suicide bombings in Afghanistan, to date. Now, as America decides to talk directly to the Taliban all the focus is, as ever, on Pakistan and its support to the Haqqanis.

Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State made it in clear in his phone call to the Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, that Pakistan should do more. Indeed Pompeo lands in Islamabad today to discuss Afghan peace with the Pakistani civil and military leadership.

There is no way out of Afghanistan without talking to the Haqqanis who remain the strategic fighting force behind the Taliban especially in eastern Afghanistan. Interestingly, Haqqani the senior, was never designated a terrorist, unlike his son, but the Haqqani Network is a US-designated foreign terror organisation. 

Charlie Wilson until his death in 2010, said that he believed Haqqani was a good man who should be negotiated with to bring an end to the war. The American confusion over Haqqani, Afghanistan and the Taliban has led to a conundrum that has no end in sight for who the “good guys" and the “bad guys" are in Afghanistan.

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