The Haqqani network: assessment of a multipolar strategy



In recent weeks the United States (U.S.) and Pakistan relations have reached another low point since the operation that led to the killing of Osama Bin Laden in his compound in Abbotabad on May 2. One of the main reasons for such deterioration is the group of insurgents known as the Haqqani network.

The U.S. has been pressuring Pakistani authorities to go after the Haqqanis for long time. However, it is just after the 20-hour siege of Kabul on September 13[1] that the issue has started to seriously strain the relationship between the two allies. During his final Senate hearing, outgoing U.S. Joint Chief of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, defined the Haqqanis as a “veritable arm” of the Pakistani intelligence agency (the Inter-Services Intelligence-ISI)[2]. Such statement was accompanied by other declarations by U.S. officials that forecasted a U.S. unilateral intervention, even through a ground operation, if Islamabad keeps refusing to crack down the network from his bases in North Waziristan.

Pakistani authorities, however, resisted U.S. pressure claiming that their military forces are already over-stretched in the war on terrorism. They also warned Washington that if the U.S. will carry out any unilateral operation on its soil, Pakistan could step back from the alliance. The (not well) covered message was: none can touch the Haqqanis.

What is the Haqqani network? And why is it considered so priceless by Islamabad till to give up the billion dollars worthy alliance with Washington? The best way to tackle these questions is to analyze the role the Haqqani network has so far had in Pakistan’s security strategy. First, a short introduction will address the historical evolution of the group. Secondly, an analytical framework based on three cross-dimensional nexuses (local, regional and global) will be adopted to explain the Haqqani’s raison d’être

The Haqqani network: an historical background

The Haqqani network was founded by Mawlawi Jalaluddin Haqqani in the 1980s during the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan. At the time, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was providing insurgent groups with funds through the Pakistani intelligence ISI. Jalaluddin Haqqani was one the main receiver of such funds and since the mid-1980s he was able to build a strong militia in southeastern Afghanistan. Such militia was composed of fighters coming from several Muslim countries in South Asia, Middle East, North Africa and Indonesia. Since then, analysts started to refer to the Haqqanis as a “network”[3].

Their operative bases were, and somehow still are, in the Afghan provinces of Paktia and Paktika (together known as Loya Paktia) and Khost, and in Pakistan’s North Waziristan Tribal Agency. The province of Khost, in particular, provided the Haqqani with a strong strategic advance with respect to other insurgent groups. Khost, in fact, has dozens of routes connecting Pakistan to Afghanistan, hence allowing the Haqqani to smuggle weapons in both countries and to carry out easy cross-border moves.

This strategic centrality has allowed the network to build a wide and diversified “social network” that turned the Haqqani in a priceless asset for all the major actors in the area. The nexuses that Jalaluddin, and later his son Sirajuddin, have been able to create encompass Al-Qaeda and the Quetta Shura, but also the Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan (TTP) and the Pakistani intelligence. All these players have to go through the Haqqani network to advance their local, regional or global interests.

The local nexus

On the local level, the Haqqani network works as both conflict and peace facilitator. Relations between the Haqqanis and other tribal insurgent groups are regulated by personal relations, solidarity and pragmatic considerations. Insofar, when insurgents groups want to perpetrate cross-border attacks on western or Pakistani forces they have to ask the Haqqanis for the permission to across their territory. This is often the case of the TTP when they decide to undertake operations in Afghanistan. Thus, the network, by providing logistic and intelligence to the TTP, has built strong ties with the Pakistani-Taleban. This nexus is well known to Pakistani intelligence, who asks the Haqqanis to deliver messages to the TTP when a negotiation has to take place[4].      

On the local level, therefore, the Haqqanis provides help to both the TTP and to Pakistani authorities. On behalf of the former, they facilitate its operations passing through Loya Paktia, Khost and North Waziristan. On behalf of the latter, the Haqqanis provide Pakistani intelligence with a direct channel to reach the TTP’s leaders.

The regional nexus         

South Asia is one of the most complicated regional security complexes in the world and regional players know it well. When the U.S. and their NATO allies launched their military intervention in Afghanistan in October 2001 they needed time to understand that it could not be treated as an isolated issue. The term Af-Pak (Afghanistan – Pakistan) has become, then, very popular in recent years and it testifies the strong security inter-links existing between the two bordering countries. Soon after the operation, the Afghan-Taleban gathered under the flag of the so called “Quetta Shura” and fled to safe heavens in Pakistan’s tribal belt and Balochistan province. However, by bringing Pakistan into the conflict-resolution attempt, the other important player in the region was dragged into the issue: India. New Delhi is obviously interested in forging strong strategic ties with Afghanistan, in a sort of Kautilya’s circle-styled alliance (i.e. the enemy of my enemy is my friend)[5].           

The Haqqani network works on behalf of Pakistan to avoid this to happen. Despite denying it in public, Islamabad supports financially and logistically the Haqqanis to carry out attacks on Afghanistan’s, U.S.’s and India’s interests in Afghanistan to boycott any possible agreement that might let Pakistan encircled and isolated. The above mentioned “siege of Kabul”, but also the attack a day before at the NATO base in Sayeb Abad district[6] and the killing of Afghan former President and peace negotiator Burhanuddin Rabbani[7], serve to recall these actors Pakistan’s interests in the future Afghanistan’s (geo)political asset. 

The global nexus

The relations between the Haqqanis and Al Qaeda (AQ) date back to the Soviet resistance. Since then, the Haqqani network contributed to the global Jihad in several ways:

  • First of all, since the 1990’s, Jalaluddin has allowed AQ to build up its infrastructures in his territories in the Loya Paktia and in North Waziristan. This support has proved itself to be an invaluable asset to spread the global Jihad.
  • Secondly, the Haqqanis provided Osama bin Laden with more freedom in his media campaign. This is because the Quetta Shura used to blame bin Laden for his public statements that attracted U.S.’s attention, thus representing a main threat to the Afghan-Taleban survival. It not surprising, given the fact that as soon as 1998, Bin Laden’s fatwa inviting all Muslim in the world to kill Americans was already recorded in a Haqqani’s camp in Zhawara and not in the Taleban-controlled city of Kandahar[8].
  • Finally, the Haqqanis supported AQ’s opening to foreign fighters, something that the Quetta Shura did rarely and reluctantly. In this regards, the Haqqanis opened their network of international acquaintances to AQ. In other words, they act as a link between foreign fighters (spread in South Asia, Middle East, North Africa and Indonesia) and the global Jihad endorsed by AQ.

The Haqqani's nexuses: an assessment

Since the time of the anti-Soviet resistance, the Haqqani network has been able to exploit his strategic centrality to set up “alliances of interest” with different actors and at different players. The local, regional and global nexuses well represent the (so far) winning politics of the Jalaluddin’s group. This multidirectional policy has indeed several advantages:

  • First, it allows the Haqqanis to play different games, thus diversifying their strategy. The Haqqanis’ goal is local rather than national or global, since they aim to maintain control and influence in Loya Paktia and North Waziristan. Nevertheless, to reach such goal they have to deal with all the actors that use those territories as corridors for their operations. By providing those players with diplomatic and logistic services the network can use them for its own good instead of being used.
  • Moreover, by diversifying its clients, the Haqqanis can avoid dependence on one single partner. This is extremely useful to the balance of power of the “alliance of interest”. Nexuses in fact are both a source of power for the Haqqanis, as well as a source of risk. For instance, when they feel to be too much associated with Al Qaeda or the TTP they can better disengage them by seeking for alternatives within their network of clients.
  • It is lastly worth mentioning that the local, regional and global nexuses are likely to play a pivotal role in the network’s funding. Despite the fact that no information are available so far regarding the origin of their funding, it is very likely that Al Qaeda, the Quetta Shura, the TTP and the ISI they all have their shares in funding the Haqqanis.


In conclusions, the Haqqani network is probably the best-placed insurgent group in the area bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan. They serve different actors with different interests. All these actors, however, share a common interest: the Haqqani network survival. If we take this into consideration, is it easier to come to the conclusion that the U.S.’s efforts to pressure Islamabad to crack down the network will keep facing resistance. Similarly, a drone campaign in North Waziristan and Loya Paktia can hardly give the Haqqanis the final blow.

The solution, thus, is elsewhere. Probably it is in giving them what they want: the control of Loya Paktia and North Waziristan. Early in October, Sarajuddin Haqqani told BBC Pashto that he has been contacted by several Islamic and non-Islamic intelligence agencies, included the CIA. He added that the U.S. proposed to give him an important role in the Afghan government if his group gives up the jihad[9]. Recently, the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, declared to weighting up the idea to include the Haqqani network in the Afghan peace process[10]. Sometimes, the easiest solution is the right one.                                       


[1] On September 13-14 Taliban insurgents carried out a 20-hour attack centre of Kabul. The death toll at the end counted 11 civilians killed – including 3 Children – and 19 wounded.

[2] “[...] A second, but no less worrisome, challenge we face is the impunity with which certain extremist groups are allowed to operate from Pakistani soil. The Haqqani network for one acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Internal Services Intelligence agency. With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted that truck bomb attack as well as the assault on our embassy. We also have credible intelligence that they were behind the June 28 attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and a host of other smaller, but effective operation [...]” Statement of Admiral Michael G. Mullen, USN, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Senate, Committee on Armed Service, Hearing to receive testimony on the U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq, 22/09/2011, p.11.

[3] Dressler, J. A., The Haqqani Network: From Pakistan To Afghanistan, Institute for the study of War, October 2010; Rassler, D., Brown, Vahid, The Haqqani Nexus and the Evolution of Al Qaeda, Combat terrorism center, july 2011.

[4] Rassler, D., Brown, Vahid, p. 10.

[5] Kautilya was an Indian teacher and political advisor, lived in the 2nd century B.C. In his masterpiece “Arthashastra”, he defined a theory of alliances based on concentric circles, in which states share enmity with closer circles/states and amity with far ones. For instance, if there are four concentric circles A-B-C-D, alliances will be formed between A-C vs. B-D.  

[6]Nato military base attacked by suicide bomber in Afghanistan, The Guardian, 11/09/2011,

[7]Afghan peace council head Rabbani killed in attack, BBC News, 20/09/2011,

[8] Rassler, D., Brown, Vahid, p. 36-37.

[9] Transcript of Siraj Haqqani's interview, BBC News, 03/10/2011,

[10] US open to Afghan peace deal including Haqqani: Clinton, Dawn News, 12/10/2011.

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