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Haqqani empire feeding on extortion, kidnapping, drug trafficking and real estate steers Taliban government in Afghanistan

Sirajuddin Haqqani, Taliban government’s interior minister

The Taliban government’s interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, number two in the dreaded terrorist outfit  Haqqani Network (HQN),  attended his first meeting with the Taliban officials in his ministry. The pictures of the meeting, shared by the Taliban supporters on social media, were  such that only the participants could see his face. In a speech, he told his officials: “We want positive relations with all our neighbours & the world in light of Islamic principles & our national traditions, we do not interfere in anyone's affairs, we ask others not to interfere in our affairs.”

Sirajuddin Haqqani still holds a bounty of $10 million on his head. His description on the FBI website states that he has been known by at least 15 aliases and was thought to live in Pakistan while also maintaining close links with the Taliban and al-Qaeda through his own Haqqani network.

Khalifa, as Sirajuddin is known in his HQN group, is a serial hostage taker who is currently holding American contractor and former war veteran Mark Frerichs in Afghanistan right now. In fact, the CIA chief had met Mullah Baradar last month after the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul for the release of the last  American contractor Mark Frerichs who is under the “custody” of the Haqqani Network. In exchange for Frerichs the Haqqanis are seeking the release  of Afghan drug lord Bashir Noorzai who is in American prison. But the  Americans want to first satisfy themselves that Frerichs is indeed alive before considering the next steps of a possible swap deal.  As interior minister, Haqqani will play a pivotal role in engaging the Americans, who are desperate to get their man back, alive and possibly unharmed.

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It was ISI chief’s Faiz Hameed’s visit to Kabul last week,  which gave the Haqqanis a lion’s share in the Taliban’s cabinet. Sirajuddin Haqqani’s  uncle Khalil Haqqani, who has a $ 5 million bounty, is also in the cabinet.  There are at least six ministers in the newly formed Taliban government who are directly associated with the most dreaded UN designated terror organisation in Afghanistan. This has left the Biden administration of the US in a tight spot.

“They’re playing a very clever game, keeping the door open to western intelligence agencies. They’ve killed and arrested a few Islamic State  members in the past weeks,” Kamal Alam, a security expert at the Atlantic Council, a US think-tank, told the Financial Times.

Haqqani network’s clever game culminates with Afghan government roles

The Haqqani Network has woven a web of alliances with several terrorist  groups, The Haqqanis are India's chief concern. Their founder, Jalaluddin Haqqani,  a man with several wives and seven sons, once worked for the Americans. The Haqqanis only joined the Taliban after it first came to power. Though Jalaluddin Haqqani served as a minister, it's said Hamid Karzai tried but failed to lure him. The UN listing of Sirajuddin says he “participated in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing, or perpetrating of acts or activities by, in conjunction with, under the name of, on behalf or in support of Taliban, Al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU),Jaish-e-Mohammed,  and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Today, the group is particularly beloved of the ISI, which considers the Haqqani Network an asset to help expand its influence in Afghanistan, as well as counter India’s influence in the country. According to a 2010 report on the Haqqani Network by US-based think tank Institute for the Study of War, Sirajuddin Haqqani’s mother is an Arab woman who was the second wife of Jalaluddin Haqqani. She is said to be living in a Gulf country.

The partnership between the ISI and the HQN is mutually beneficial. The HQN  influence in Afghanistan is of key strategic importance to Pakistan as it helps assure Pakistan’s influence across the border and serves as a proxy for defending the state’s interests in tribal conflicts.

According to experts, the  Haqqanis are  “war profiteers” who have a strong financial interest in the continuation of conflict, since this creates the conditions which allow them to run criminal activities from extortion to kidnapping to drug trafficking to money laundering, alongside legal activities in business sectors, including import-export, transport, real estate and construction in Afghanistan, Pakistan,  the Gulf and beyond. The HQN enjoys the support of the Pakistani military and the ISI–the main bone of contention between Pakistan and the US.  Ashley Jackson, co-director of the Overseas Development

Institute’s Centre for the Study of Armed Groups told the Financial Times that  the US had been laying the groundwork to bring senior Afghan militant leaders into the

international fold in order to achieve a bloodless exit — but the Taliban’s armed takeover cut short that process. “Now you  have a very awkward situation in which the Taliban government and the US are locked into a relationship of mutual dependence,” she said.

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