Part 1, the Road to 9/11
How does the son of the man who pushed Osama Bin Laden into perpetrating the 9/11 attacks, who’s killed hundreds of Americans and tens of thousands of Afghans in his own war efforts, and has a $10,000,000 bounty on his head get paid $6 million by the United States’ government to run security for it?
I have to begin this piece with an apologia. In endeavoring to grapple with the tumultuous life of Afghanistan’s most powerful and dangerous man, I have, quite uncharacteristically I might add, found it analytically impossible to disarticulate the tangible horror Siraj Haqqani has wrought over his 42 years of constant warfare, the unprecedented — dare I say Biblical or Quaranic reverence in which he is held by countless Taliban militants and their ideological affiliates, and the genuinely regal mystique that he was born into and has carefully cultivated during his lifetime.
This variety of quasi-hagiography, having much in common with early modern biographies of so-called Great Men as described by the likes of Thomas Carlyle, is incongruous with the current chic of historicism. Nevertheless, in my humble opinion, this style of writing is the only suitable medium in which to capture the tale of a man whose life could properly be described as lying at the center of history. As shall hopefully be shown satisfactorily below, Sirajuddin Haqqani and his father Jalaluddin lie inextricably betwixt the fates of Afghanistan, the Soviet Union/Russia, the United States, Pakistan (and to a lesser extent, Greater Turkestan, Iran, China, India, just to name a few) and their respective billions of peoples. No other son and father, save for Alexander and Philip of Macedon, have had such a disproportionate impact on the combined fate of mankind — which renders their relative anonymity all the more perplexing.
Before we can come to grips with the man of the hour, it is necessary to provide a brief and admittedly imprecise overview over Sirajuddin’s Zadran tribe (a distinct Pashtun sub-tribe) and the crown jewel of his native Lōya Paktiā, the province of Khost, as well as a brief overview of the events precipitating Siraj’s historic rise.
The Zadrans of Khost, much like the fierce Chechen tribes straddling the northern Caucasus Range, as well as the Boers and Zulus of southeastern Africa, have a reputation for martial prowess and a ruthless penchant for independence that has been cultivated over at least the past two centuries. The Zadrans, like all peoples, are not and have never been a political monolith. To quote Dr. Mehmed Ali writing for the US Air Force’s Air University:
“…the Zadran tribe, part of a larger “Zadran Arc” in the two neighboring provinces, is present in Khost’s Shamal, Nadir Sha Khot, and Spera Districts and has held an essentially antigovernment role over the course of history.”
In 1912, the Zadran chief Babrak Khan Zadran participated in the crushing of a Mangal/Zadran uprising against the government of Emir Habibullah Khan. In the rebellion of 1924, the Mangals and Zadrans again rebelled against the westernizing reforms of Emir Amanullah Khan — in this conflict Babrak Zadran was killed, although the literature is unclear as to whether he was fighting with or against the reigning government. That rebellion failed, but Amanullah Khan was nevertheless deposed in 1929 in the wake of the civil war of 1928-’29, being replaced by Mohammed Zahir Shah who had the support of the British Empire (in particular the British Raj).
In 1944 after worsening economic conditions and the imposition of a number of political reforms (changes to conscription laws, increased government surveillance, the institution of trading monopolies), Bakrak Zadran’s son Mazark Zadran initiated another series of revolts with the explicit goal of restoring the Emirate of Amanullah Khan against Emir Mohammed Zahir Shah that lasted until 1947, when they were ultimately defeated. Mazark was joined in this rebellion by the famous Pashtun nationalist from Waziristan (part of modern day Pakistan, then a part of the British Raj) Faqir Ipi. In 1951, 4 years after the partition of the British Raj into India and Pakistan, Mazark Zadran’s brother, Said Akbar Khan Babrakzai assassinated the first Prime Minister of Pakistan Liaqat Ali Khan in Rawalpindi.
Eventually (it’s unclear from the extant English literature when), the grandson of Babrak Khan Zadran, Muhammed Umar Babrakzai assumed the broader leadership of the Zadran tribe.
In 1939, a Khosti Zadran by the name of Jalaluddin was born to Khwaja Muhammed Khan, a wealthy landowner and trader of the Sultankhel clan in the Wazi Zadran district of Paktia Province. Jalaluddin had three brothers, Muhammed Isma’il, Ibrahim and Khalil. Jalaluddin and at least his brothers Ibrahim and Khalil were sent to study at the Hanafi Deobandi Darul Uloom (for westerners, read “seminary” or “madrasa”) Haqqania in Akora Khattak Pakistan. Among more knowledgeable readers, this school would later be deemed the “University of Jihad” for the number of famous Taliban attendants (for example, the Taliban’s main spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, a man US-led coalition intelligence either presumed was an amalgamation of several men or either believed he simply didn’t exist). Jalaluddin began his advanced religious studies at Darul Uloom Haqqania in 1964, and graduated in 1970 earning the distinction of Mawlawi — subsequently, he adopted the surname Haqqani.
In 1973, Mohammed Zahir Shah was overthrown in a coup d’état by his cousin Mohammed Daoud Khan, who established the first (single-party, flagrantly dictatorial) “Republic” of Afghanistan. According to Mawlawi Aziz Khan, who fought with Jalaluddin and later became the first dean of Jalaluddin’s Manba’ al-Ulum madrassa in Miranshah, Pakistan:
As soon as Daoud declared the establishment of the Republic through theBrown and Rassler, pg. 45
national radio [on 17 July 1973], Mawlawi Sahib Jalaluddin Haqqani
declared jihad in the village of Nika, Zadran, and raised the flag of jihad
Jalaluddin spent the next two years agitating for jihad in Lōya Paktiā, efforts which were largely ineffectual because of interference by Khan’s government. In 1975, Jalaluddin (among others) was exiled by Khan’s government, so he set-up shop in Miranshah and began militating against the government of President Khan. Beginning in the early 70s, he began establishing numerous madrasas throughout eastern Afghanistan, and by 1980 there were no less than eighty with curricula styled off of Darul Uloom Haqqania’s Deobandi curriculum.
In the summer of 1975, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, founder of the group Hezb-e-Islami-Gulbuddin (and famous manufacturer and trafficker of opium and heroin) coordinated a series of uprisings against the government of President Khan. In August of that year, Jalaluddin and his coterie engaged in a gun battle with “local communists” in the district of Urgun in which the local police commander and nine of his men were killed. When the forces of Khan’s government went to arrest him and surrounded his house, in his words “I took the Qur’an in one hand and the gun in the other, and fled the house, reciting a verse from the Qur’an.” He joined with his brother Ibrahim, and together with about 30 men they spent a month and a half skirmishing with government forces who were trying to flush them out of the mountains.
In 1978, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), led by Hafizullah Amin and Babrak Karmal with assistance from elements of the Afghan Army overthrew President Khan’s government and the presidential family was executed in the Afghan presidential palace the Arg in the Saur (April) Revolution. Nur Muhammed Taraki was appointed as the General Secretary of the PDPA, and he promptly instituted his own rendition of the Soviet “Red Terror.”
In 1978 after the Saur Revolution and during the restive insurgency against the Taraki government, Jalaluddin Haqqani joined the Hezb-i Islami movement of Mawlawi Mohammad Yunus Khalis and put out his own feelers to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia soliciting them for support — he was likely one of the first, and certainly the most prominent Mujahideen leader to do so.
In 1979, Taraki had a falling out with Hafizullah Amin (with the former incorrectly believing that the latter was plotting to execute him), so Taraki tried to steal a march on him and assassinate him first, but his assassins bungled it and Amin escaped to the Ministry of Defense. Amin returned to the Arg in force and detained Taraki, had himself elected General Secretary, and put out feelers to Leonid Brezhnev to gauge who he believed the Soviets would support, asking specifically “Taraki is still around. What should I do with him?” Brezhnev suggested that that was up to him, though unbeknownst to Amin, Brezhnev had pledged to protect Taraki.
Hafizullah, despite his best efforts and the flagrantly totalitarian nature of his predecessor, was not a popular man, and his socialist government rapidly lost effective control over Afghanistan’s countryside. Even though Amin was completely faithful in both the USSR and its brand of socialism cum communism, that trust was not reciprocated, with the Politburo even expressing (evidently, completely unwarranted) fears that Amin would join the United States’ sphere of influence.
After garnering the support of Amin’s former partner Babrak Karmal, on December 27th of 1979, a mixture of Soviet Spetsnaz troops and VDV paratroopers conducted a raid on the Tajbeg Palace, the residence of Secretary General Amin, crushing the palace guard force with Amin famously stating that “The Soviets will help us” until his calls to the Soviet General Staff went unanswered. Babrak Karmal was then made General Secretary, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan began shortly afterwards to support his position.
In 1980, Muhammad Umar Babrakzai, hitherto the nominal chief of the Zadran tribe, made a bid to lead the various resistance groups by holding a Loya Jirga (supreme council) in Peshawar, Pakistan, where he invited the various Islamist leaders to join him. The Pakistani government under General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq effectively crushed it, fearing that it would become a vehicle for Pashtun nationalism (there are forty-million Pashtuns in Pakistan). Intentionally or unintentionally, in doing so, Zia-ul-Haq secured Jalaluddin’s stature as the most dominant Zadran tribal leader in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Now, I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, there are literally hundreds of books on the USSR’s war in Afghanistan written by dozens of distinguished post-Soviet, Afghan, and Western scholars, examples of which you can find here, here and here. With respect to the Soviet war, I’ll primarily be examining the oft-understated, but in practice decisive role played by Jalalauddin Haqqani.
Childhood (The Soviet War)
In December of 1979, the same month as the beginning of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Sirajuddin was born to Jalaluddin and one his Pashtun wife. His name translates in English from Urdu and Arabic roughly to “light of the religion.” While Siraj’s light was obviously dim during the anti-Soviet war (he was a toddler after all), his father’s radiance was plain for all to see.
The famous American Congressman who spearheaded the American effort to provide funds and arms to the anti-Soviet Mujahideen, Charlie Wilson, referred to him as, quote, “goodness personified.” One French reporter aptly referred to him as “the Ho Chi Minh of Islam.” Jalaluddin’s militia crushed the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan’s armies in battle after battle, and they defeated most Soviet incursions into Lōya Paktiā assisted solely by a steady flow of arms from the US and Pakistani governments. He and his men were so vital to the anti-Soviet war efforts, that when the Red Army massed enormous assault forces to crush Jalaluddin’s camp(s), not once but twice, the Pakistani Army openly invaded southern Afghanistan and placed its forces between the two.
Apart from being uniformly perceived as a bright tactician by every major party (be they Soviet, Pakistani or American), he was pretty much the only reason the infamous “Arab Afghans” rose to prominence. Quoting Brown and Rassler, by 1980 Jalaluddin had:
“… already by this time made numerous personal visits to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran.”Brown and Rassler, pg. 63
Other Mujahideen commander asked the Arab world for funds, but they explicitly and implicitly refused the requests of Arab fighters to join the Muj on the battlefield. To quote Thomas Hegghammer citing the Egyptian journalist cum jihadist fighter Mustafa Hamid (otherwise known as Abu Walid al-Masri) who spent twelve years fighting alongside Jalaluddin and later was the amir of Al-Qaeda‘s al-Faruq training camp near the Haqqani base at Zhawar:
“’While a number of parties accepted Arabs, it was really only Haqqani and Khalis who said ‘Yes, you can join us as fighters.’ The other groups tended to keep the Arabs away from the fighting.’”Hegghammer, pg. 167
Again, quoting Hegghammer directly:
“Haqqani received Arab volunteers before any otherHegghammer, pg. 167
Afghan party, and it was he who hosted Mustafa Hamid in
June 1979, as well as most of the Arabs who came in the
Before Al-Qaeda became a global actor in its own right, years before the attacks of September 11th made the United States painfully aware that it was at war with a sophisticated nonstate actor, Mustafa Hamid (after a decade of Jalaluddin Haqqani’s tutelage) was…:
“… credited by al-Qa’ida’s senior leadership with having convinced Bin Laden in the early 1990s to reorient the organization around a global confrontation with the imperial hegemony of the United States.”Brown and Rassler, pg. 64
Similarly, long before the famous Palestinian mentor to Osama Bin Laden, Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, became widely known as the “father of global jihad”, Jalaluddin Haqqani gave an interview in 1980 in which he suggested:
“There is a tendency in most of the Islamic countries which wish to help us toHegghammer, pg. 168
present aid and food as a kind of jihad. Some even think that this is the
best kind of jihad. This, however, does not absolve the Muslim of the
duty to offer himself for the jihad.”
This was fitting, as not only was Azzam hosted in Afghanistan in Haqqani territory, he also used Jalaluddin as a key source for his first book written in 1982. He also referred to him frequently in his 1986 Ayat al-Rahman in Jihad al-Afghan, which I’ve variously quoted. As opposed to the narrow parochialism characteristic of almost every other Mujahideen commander, Jalaluddin adopted a philosophy of almost uncanny pragmatism towards jihad perhaps best encapsulated by the contemporary movie line “if you build it, he will come.” To quote Hegghammer citing one commander Amin Wardak:
“He speaks Arabic and hosted Arabs who came to supportHegghammer, pg. 169
him, but without rejecting the Westerners. He would receive anyone
who could bring him their support. Even if he had good relations with
the Arabs, he does not have the same ideology.”
In 1983, Jalaluddin onboarded one Muhammad Atif, who would later become Al-Qaeda‘s first lieutenant and then the head of its military committee.
In 1984, Abdallah Azzam founded the Maktab al-Khidamat, otherwise known as the Afghan Services Bureau, one of the major precursors to Al-Qaeda, to direct funds and manpower towards the various Mujahideen groups (one participant writing in 2015 suggested that it was founded specifically to help meet Jalaluddin Haqqani’s battlefield requirements) using financial and ideological assistance provided by the young dilletantes Osama bin Laden, and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Jalaluddin’s primary base of operations was the enormous mountain fortress of Zhawar which began construction in 1981, which a French journalist (quoted by Hegghammer) described as having…
“… a stunning number of shelters and underground garages.
Both the hospital and the mosque are carved out from the cliffs. In a room
inside the rock, there’s a screen where the Mujahidin can watch a film of their latest ambush. Further up, Afghan and Pakistani workers are finishing a new hospital, this one for women. In underground workshop, Mujahidin are
repairing machine guns. In another, mechanics work on tanks, ten real
tanks captured from the Soviets. On the hilltops are numerous and well
placed machine guns and artillery, and the fighters have missiles too. The
base has been bombed twenty-six times.”
At Zhawar, Jalaluddin played host to numerous foreign VIPs (among them, Charlie Wilson, pictured below).
Starting in the first week of April of 1986, looking to reopen the road to their base in Khost province, DRA forces and the Red Army initiated the battle of Zhawar. A combined force of 12,000 men marched on Zhawar to seize it from the 800 or so Mujahideen Jalaluddin had with him defending it.
On April 11th, frustrated with the halting progress his forces were making towards Zhawar, the Afghan second-in-command for this operation ordered a coup-du-main. An entire brigade of DRA commandos was inserted via helicopter into the mountains’ vicinity in an operation reminiscent of the US-fought battle of the Ia Drang Valley after the Soviet Air Force pounded the mountains with so much ordnance that Jalaluddin and 150 of his fighters were temporarily trapped by cave-ins. Jalaluddin escaped the cave-in he was in, and led 700 Muj on a series of counterattacks over three days that decimated this brigade and fully annihilated one of its battalion that’d landed on a poorly chosen plateau. In the course of this brigade-sized landing, Jalaluddin’s forces destroyed between 13 and 24 Afghan Air Force helicopters (to put this in a more modern context, that’s as many helicopters as the Russian Army lost in the first few weeks of their 2022 invasion of Ukraine). This loss compelled the ranking Soviet officer to take over command, and he began systematically bombarding the positions of Jalaluddin’s forces until April 17th, when DRA forces captured the mountain of Dawr Gar. One of the units under Jalaluddin’s overall command withdrew from their positions around the same time as he was wounded in an airstrike, so rumors of his death catalyzed a general withdrawal towards Pakistan.
Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden and a large contingent of highly motivated Arab fighters showed up at Jalaluddin’s house in Miranshah on April 22nd, named Azzam their amir and deemed themselves katibat al-ghuraba’ (the brigade of the strangers), and asked to rejoin the operation led by Jalaluddin and Hekmatyar to take back Zhawar. Abdullah Azzam was so taken with that moment that he penned his will in Jalaluddin’s presence. But, because this group was untrained as a whole, the Mujahideen benched them, with Osama bin Laden later complaining:
“We wanted to move, but they told us: we have sentHegghammer, pg. 333
brothers who are more qualified than you, and who know the situation
better, and they are physically fit to find out what the situation is like
It only took Jalaluddin and his men two days to retake the ground they had lost, but the embarrassment of being sidelined at such a critical moment evidently depressed the various Arab fighters.
“One of the most frustrated was Usama Bin Ladin. The young SaudiHegghammer, pg. 332
had initially served only as a financial donor, but after his first visit to
the frontlines in 1984 he rapidly developed a taste for war. By 1986,
according to Jamal Isma‘il, “Osama was spending most of his time on
the Afghan frontline with commanders, especially general Jalaluddin
Haqqani in Khost.””
For the militarists among the Arabs, however, Zhawar was a watershed. It was final proof that the Services Bureau could not be trusted to provide adequate training. It was notably after Zhawar that Usama Bin Ladin became involved full time in the Afghan jihad; up until then he had resided in Saudi ArabiaHegghammer, pg. 334
visiting only for weeks at a time. In late May or early June 1986 Usama Bin Ladin, Abu Hajir, and a few others started discussing training alternatives for the Arabs.
This moment also evidently became a key factor contributing to the CIA’s decision to introduce Stinger surface-to-air missiles into Afghanistan according to Hegghammer, citing Pakistani Brigadier General Yousaf Mohammad. You read that right, Jalaluddin Haqqani’s war efforts were the reason the Soviet Afghan War erroneously became synonymous with Stinger missiles.
On a related pop-culture side-note for Americans who might be nodding off right about now, Rambo III takes place in the vicinity of Khost province, i.e. Jalaluddin Haqqani’s main haunt. The screenwriters evidently knew next to nothing about the war, but they accidentally made the first Haqqani blockbuster.
In November of 1987, the Red Army conducted Operation Magistral in a bid to dislodge Jalaluddin’s forces from Zhawar and to clear his Mujahideen from the roads connecting the cities of Gardez and Khost. This was the single largest operation the Red Army conducted during the entirety of the Soviet War in Afghanistan, and it involved 20,000 Soviet soldiers as well as 8,000 men from the Army of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
This campaign is famous in its own right, with one particular skirmish for Hill 3234 inspiring the creation of the Russian movie blockbuster The 9th Company. Jalaluddin and his men specifically and directly inspired not one, not two, but three blockbuster films without earning so much as a name-drop.
Operation Magistral was ultimately unsuccessful, and Jalaluddin’s men reoccupied their positions along the road between Gardez and Khost as soon as most of the Soviet troops were withdrawn. Again, I have to reiterate that I’m not even providing a partial summary of the Soviet Afghan War here. I’ve touched upon two battles that were particularly relevant to this broader narrative in a conflict where the USSR waged ‘nine campaigns against the Panjshir Valley alone.’
I can’t place this next image or event chronologically, but during one battle that Jalaluddin fought in, he was wounded in the leg by a rifle bullet. The Pakistani and/or CIA officers with medical training who were with him at the time suggested that he should leave the frontlines and go to a hospital. Instead, of doing the healthy thing, he plucked the bullet out his leg with a knife, and continued leading his forces until the battle was over.
While the Soviet Union and the Mujahideen were waging a gargantuan struggle all around him, a young Sirajuddin Haqqani frequently traveled the war’s battlefields with his father, but extant public information on his early years is quite splotchy apart from that. I’d happily invite Sirajuddin’s youngest brother Anas Haqqani (who, statistically speaking, likely has more Twitter followers than you or I do), to fill me and you in on more details from the early life of a man who’d come to be known as Khalifa Saib.
As any Taliban fighter will readily point out on Twitter, Khalil Haqqani is something of a character.
Youth (The Great Civil War)
After the last Red Army soldiers crossed the Friendship Bridge to Uzbekistan, and the USSR’s withdrawal from Afghanistan was complete, things went downhill from there.
In early May of 1990, Jalaluddin held a gathering of Mujahideen commanders where they established the National Commander’s Shura (Council), which was initially comprised largely of Pashtuns to discus their strategy for tackling the DRA in the wake of the Soviet’s Irish goodbye. A later meeting in October included various northern commanders, among them the famous Tajik commander of the Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Massoud, colloquially known as The Lion of Panjshir.
I’ll take a moment to borrow a picture and caption from Brown and Rassler’s Fountainhead of Jihad (in fairness, they borrowed this picture from the Haqqani-run publication Manba al-Jihad but didn’t specify which issue it’s from), because it’s the single-most poignant photograph I’ve seen in years, and it will jar or scar your mind if you stick around to the end. The two most famous commanders from the Soviet War sitting side-by-side, both of whose sons will adopt divergent paths that are currently fated to collide as of this piece’s publication.
The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan under President Najibullah limped on until 1992, primarily because of the Herculean efforts of the Uzbek warlord General (later Vice President) Abdul Rashid Dostum as well as an unfathomable amount of Soviet then Russian ordnance (Westerners might recognize Dostum as the character who uttered the most striking words in the film 12 Strong).
But when Dostum withdrew his support the DRA more or less immediately collapsed.
It certainly didn’t help the DRA’s predicament (that’s poetic understatement, but this isn’t supposed to be a book length dissertation), that Jalaluddin and his men seized the city of Khost in the spring of 1991. To quote Brown and Rassler:
“In fact, 1989–91 saw the largest numbers of Arabs and other foreign fighters arriving in Afghanistan, hailing from more than forty countries. This proved a boon for the Haqqanis, who welcomed hundreds—if not thousands—of these men into their orders of battle at Khost, conquered by Haqqani-led forces in the spring of 1991. Khost was the first major city to fall to the mujahidin, followed soon after by Gardez, losses that were instrumental in the fall of the communist government of Najibullah in Kabul in 1992.”Brown and Rassler, pg. 82
After the collapse of the DRA, Afghanistan descended into a veritable thunder-dome of warlords jockeying for control. While Afghanistan began its descent into madness evocative of the Wars of the Diadochi (I regret to inform you all that these wars were at least as confusing), only two major Mujahideen leaders remained mostly aloof from the fray; Ahmed Shah Massoud largely stuck to his idyllic Panjshir valley after his armies were trounced; and Jalaluddin Haqqani, evidently sickened by the petty squabbles of the “Afghan Interim Government” (note, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan had not yet collapsed by the time of the AIG’s establishment in 1989), he declared his neutrality.
Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent American counter-invasion further complicated things. At the risk of over-simplifying: Bin Laden left the Arab training camps in Haqqani territory running while he went off to Sudan and proffered the Saudi government an army of 12,000 Mujahideen, which the Saudis rejected; the members of the AIG variously either pronounced their support for Saddam or they offered their support to the Saudis, which the Saudis accepted; and Jalaluddin issued statements denouncing both Saddam’s invasion and the American response.
After the Saudis spurned him, Bin Laden set up the Advise and Reform Committee in London from which he flung polemics at the Saudi government through which he sought the careful reformation of Saudi policies, and he largely resigned himself to his business in Sudan which consisted of:
“Nor did Bin Laden reorient the fundamental orientation ofBrown and Rassler, pg. 89
the al-Qa’ida organization at this time, which remained focused on
three interrelated goals: continuing the training operations in
Khost, establishing a presence in the region of the Arabian Peninsula (principally Yemen and Somalia), and offering support and
training to revolutionary Islamist groups that had emerged in the
aftermath of the Afghan jihad.”
From 1992 to 1994, Jalaluddin unsuccessfully sought to mediate between the various warring parties, but when the Taliban exploded out of Pakistan into southwestern Afghanistan he sort’ve just called it quits and returned to Khost.
While the Civil War was ongoing, the Haqqanis under Jalaluddin at the very minimum lent Al-Qaeda rhetorical support for its jihadist efforts along the Horn of Africa. By this point, most of Al-Qaeda‘s senior leaders were distinguished graduates of the Haqqani jihadi-prep school. While Bin Laden was off aiding mostly abortive jihadist efforts in Eritrea, Yemen and Somalia, Al-Qaeda’s jihadist training camps in Jalaluddin’s Lōya Paktiā were positively thriving.
Around 1991, before kernel of possibility that the United States could be directly attacked had ever occurred to Osama Bin Laden, his mentor Jalaluddin went on a speaking tour arguing that the US should be struck. Speaking at a conference in 1991, Jalaluddin proclaimed:
“Jihad continues to be a sacred duty until the infidels are defeated throughout the world. … God will not bless us for our past jihad. To win His blessings, we have to continue jihad until the end … In the past, we had oneBrown and Rassler, pg. 93
enemy, Russia. But now, our enemies are numerous and stronger because
now America, Britain, China and all non-Muslim countries have backed the
Russians in an attempt to weaken the Muslim community … The premise
that made jihad a sacred duty of all Muslims in the past still holds and
backing the jihad and helping in its path is a duty of all Muslims.”
In 1992 at a conference in Karachi celebrating the contributions of the Haqqanis to the struggles of militants in Afghanistan and Kashmir, the leader of the Pakistani political party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Fazal-ur-Rehman said:
“The Afghan jihad, which was spearheaded by Mawlawi Haqqani andBrown and Rassler, pg. 94
other truthful leaders, defeated the Soviet empire. But now there is
another enemy to this jihad. That is America and its conspiratorial policies
that are intended to bring ruin to Afghanistan, the center of jihad, under
American attacks. But we are absolutely certain that people like Mawlawi
Haqqani will give the Americans the same answer they gave to the
Russians. And we are sure that people like Haqqani will fuel the flames of
The Haqqanis words were reinforced by their actions, as they began training militants from “Pakistan, Kashmir, Bangladesh, northwestern China,
Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Southeast Asia, and a variety of Arab countries.”
Between 1992 and 1995, Al-Qaeda and the Haqqanis worked together on the “Furqan Project”, their plan to export jihad to the former Soviet states. Tajiks, Uzbeks, Chechens and other Central Asian militants underwent training “one location and in a joint fashion, with al-Qa’ida and Haqqani personnel training the international classes together.”
“The overall training program, according to Abu’l-Walid (al Masri), wasBrown and Rassler, pg. 96
designed on the model of the Haqqani network and sought to
impart to the Central Asian jihadis the best practices of coordinated
command and centralized force that the Haqqanis had refined during the anti-Soviet struggle.”
The jihadist camps in Khost became the original Mecca for global jihad, with Jalaluddin proving to be a gracious host for any and all comers.
“While there, Abu’l-Walid met one Tahir Yuldashev, an Uzbek then on the Nahda Shura Council. Abu’l-Walid and Yuldashev discussed the latter’s ambitions for jihadist action in Uzbekistan, and after Abu’l-Walid returned to the al-Qa’ida-Haqqani camps at Zhawara Yuldashev began sending groups of Uzbeks down to him for training. Four years later Yuldashev announced the formation of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which has been fighting ever since in Central Asia’s Ferghana Valley. After 9/11 many of the IMU’s activists in Afghanistan fled with al-Qa’ida into North and South Waziristan, where they are now estimated to number several thousand.”Brown and Rassler, pg. 97
Even some of the leading Chechens jihadists were brought up in the Khost training camps.
“After beginning the training session for the Uzbeks, Abu’l-Walid went to Peshawar to meet with a delegation of Chechen mujahidin that had come seeking support for their struggle against Russia. Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev was among the delegation, and Abu’l-Walid met with Shamil and discussed the Khost training operations. Shamil sent six Chechen mujahidin back with Abu’l-Walid to train at al-Faruq, and Abu’l-Walid writes that in their physical fitness and military skills they were superior to anyone he had trained before. After their graduation Abu’l-Walid learned that they all filled prominent leadership positions in the jihadi movement in Chechnya, and that five of them were eventually killed fighting the Russians.”Brown and Rassler, pg. 97
As you’ve probably gleaned by the extensive mention of “Abu’l-Walid” in these excerpts, our Egyptian journalist friend from earlier, Mustafa Hamid, a man who fought with Jalaladdin Haqqani for twelve years and effectively functioned as his shadow, was intricately involved in the Al-Qaeda‘s global training efforts.
In 2009, Abdullah Muhammad Fazul — described by Brown and Rassler as Al-Qaeda‘s “confidential secretary” and a later leader of Al-Qaeda operations in east Africa — claimed that Mustafa Hamid was “the architect of the strategy.” This admission particularly striking, as Fazul himself — per Bin Laden’s former bodyguard Nasir al-Bahri — was Al-Qaeda‘s team-leader for their efforts to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. In reference to the 9/11 plot in particular, Fazul claims that until its enactment only he, Bin Laden, Mohammed Atef (Al-Qaeda‘s military chief, and Haqqani-prep alum) and Khalid Shayk Muhammed (commonly referred to as the “architect” of 9/11, also a Haqqani-prep alum) were privy to its details.
Put in simple terms, Jalaluddin Haqqani militated for the broader jihadist movement to strike the United States, and one of his pupils (Mustafa Hamid) directly convinced a coterie of his other (less involved) pupils (OBL, KSM, and Mohammed Atef) that they should conduct the attacks of September 11th, 2001.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves somewhat. In 1994, as the Taliban erupted out of southwestern Afghanistan, Jalaluddin and his men avoided most of the fighting, but they fiercely protected their allies and assets.
“As the Taliban moved north and east out of Kandahar, its fiercestBrown and Rassler, pg. 103
opposition came from the HIG. As Taliban forces approached
Khost, however, the HIG commander there—Fayez Muhammad,
amir of the Jihadwal base—decided to flee with HIG’s weapons
stores and vehicles. Al-Qa’ida had been renting its training camp at
Jihadwal from the HIG, and Fayez Muhammad moved to seize alQa’ida’s weapons and demanded from Abu ‘Ata al-Sharqi that he
turn over a tractor and other vehicles, saying they were all needed
for the HIG’s fight against Massoud in Kabul. The al-Qa’ida leaders
refused, and when Fayez Muhammad moved to seize their equipment the Haqqani network stepped in and threatened to destroy his
base and expel the HIG from Khost.”
On the same page, Brown and Rassler cite one Abu ‘Ata’s report to Al Qaeda‘s leaders in Sudan that depicts this striking example of Haqqani diplomacy:
“the governor of Khost, who is from the Haqqani organization (tanzim Haqqani), told Fayez Muhammad: ‘By God, if you fire a single shot we will destroy the Matun citadel’—which belongs to the Hizb [HIG] in Khost—‘and we will kick you out of Khost’ … These incidents made me feel much more at ease, as Fayiz Muhammad has begun to face many problems and is daily losing power, and I don’t think he would dare try repeating what he did to us before.”
In early 1995, when the Taliban finally arrived at their doorstep, instead of wasting time with bloodshed, Jalaluddin chose to let his tongue speak rather than his Kalashnikov.
“Following a pattern established in a series of earlier encountersBrown and Rassler, pg. 105
with local mujahidin leaders, a Taliban force surrounded Ibrahim
Haqqani’s house and, holding aloft copies of the Qur’an, demanded
that the Haqqanis “surrender” the area to Taliban control. Ibrahim
came out and convinced the Taliban that he would get his brother
Jalaluddin to speak with them, and Ibrahim and his brother Khalil
Haqqani then oversaw a series of negotiations between the Taliban
leadership and the Haqqanis that set the terms of their relationship.
High on the list of priorities was protecting Jalaluddin’s booming
business ventures, especially the scrap metal “export” business
using the Haqqani-controlled Khost airstrip, repaired in 1993 by
their Arab allies, from which the Haqqanis were making millions in
the resale of metals scavenged in some cases from Iraqi heavy
weaponry shipped to the Haqqanis by the CIA in 1991. The Haqqanis explicitly demanded regional autonomy in return for
recognizing the Taliban, and stressed that the southeastern tribal
culture and local political processes be left alone. They also specifically required that there be no effort to enforce Kandahari dictates
on the highland tribes.”
When the Taliban began their 1995 drive on Kabul in February, they were repeatedly repulsed by the forces of Ahmed Shah Massoud in their first defeats since they began their march north. Jalaluddin belatedly took 2,000 men northwards to join the Taliban’s siege of Kabul, but he was evidently “extremely bitter” over being excluded from the decision-making process.
Al-Qaeda‘s relationship with the Taliban was even rockier. Bin Laden had moved his family to a set of caves south of Jalalabad, and when the Taliban captured that city they became suspicious and told him to live in a normal house. Bin Laden also refused to allow his fighters (who were still training at their camps in Haqqani territory) to fight alongside the Taliban. One “Afghan Arab” suggested:
“I didn’t support the Taliban at all. I had heard a lot of negative things …”Brown and Rassler, pg. 106
After the Taliban finally took Kabul in September of 1996, Ahmed Shah Massoud launched a massive counter-attack in October. Jalaluddin led 4,000 of his men northwards, among them were nine Al-Qaeda fighters as Bin Laden had ultimately softened his position.
In March of 1997, Bin Laden gave this interview with Peter Bergen…
… which is the first time his rhetoric publicly began to align more formally with the ideological position first laid out by Jalaluddin Haqqani and Mustafa Hamid in the early 1990s.
The leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar (whose son we will become familiar with in part 2) wasn’t a fan of this interview, so they ordered him to pack up his shit and move to Kandahar “where the situation is more secure.” During the summer of 1997, the Taliban’s efforts to seize the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif from the Uzbek fighters of Abdul Rashid Dostum and the hundreds of Scud short-range ballistic missiles the Russian Federation was funneling him. Again, Jalaluddin had to schlep his way northwards to assist in the siege alongside his partners in Al-Qaeda. Osama Bin Laden reportedly said, to Mullah Omar’s face:
“we cannot participate further in your battles. Your commanders are immature. They cannot read the situation correctly.”Brown and Rassler, pg. 108
Instead, Bin Laden told Mullah Omar that he could have Al-Qaeda fighters only if they were commanded by Jalaluddin. One of the fighters Jalaluddin brought with him was a Pashtun named Baitullah Mehsud, a man who would later become the leader of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (i.e. the Pakistani Taliban). After that campaign, the Taliban stopped asking Jalaluddin for military assistance and gave him the throwaway title of Minister of Borders and Tribes. They also largely left him and Lōya Paktiā to their own devices, this would probably prove to be a temporarily catastrophic move in retrospect. “Haqqanistan” was a very different place from the rest of Taliban dominated Afghanistan,
“The differences for the lives of ordinary people were striking as well, and numerous diplomats and aid workers noted the contrast between Loya Paktia and the rest of Afghanistan as far as the application of Taliban law was concerned. In January 1997, US State Department officials noted that “Haqqani’s tribe, the Zadrans, are considered more liberal in their treatment of women than the tribes in the Kandahar area.” Between 1995 and 1997 CARE International built thirty coeducational schools in Khost, “believed to be unique in Afghanistan” at the time, all built “thanks to a wellknown local mujaheddin [sic] commander, Jalaluddin Haqqani, who has close ties to some Persian Gulf sheiks.” According to several former Haqqani network commanders interviewed in 2009, “Jalaluddin Haqqani was opposed to some Taliban measures such as banning music, enforcing beard length, and limiting women’s access to education.””Brown and Rassler, pg. 108
In my humble opinion, all of these are objectively good attributes that are more amenable to American sensibilities than are the formal policies of all of America’s allies in the Gulf States. The main irreconcilable difference between Jalaluddin Haqqani and his associates, and… for all intents and purposes most of the planet, is that Jalaluddin never dropped the mantle of global jihad once he picked it up, regardless of the personal and organizational consequences he incurred.
“In another indication of the Haqqanis’ autonomy from the Taliban,Brown and Rassler, pg. 109
the latter were unable to provide any assistance to Pakistan—upon
whose support the Taliban were dependent—in response to numerous requests from the Pakistani civilian government for the extradition of wanted Pakistani fugitives known to be training in Haqqani-run camps… Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai reported from Khost in 1997 that these camps had been transferred to Jalaluddin Haqqani’s control, who reallocated them to al-Qa’ida and the JUI linked Harakat ul-Ansar (a merger of Harakat ul-Mujahidin and Harakat-ul Jihad ul-Islami).”
Jalaluddin and his associates also proved to be painfully willing to incur whatever punishment the United States gradually began to throw at them.
“(In 1998) After al-Qa’ida bombed two American embassies in East Africa, the United States responded with scores of cruise missiles that pounded the camps in Zhawara, which, it was subsequently discovered, included not just al-Qa’ida camps but also those being run by HUA—by then calling itself Harakat-ul-Mujahidin (HUM). Pakistani journalists who rushed to the scene of the latter camps reported that the dead included a number of ISI agents.”Brown and Rassler, pg. 109
The burgeoning Haqqani network was also more evidently more than willing to permit and ultimately assist with assaults against each of their former sponsors.
“By 1999 the international pressure on Sharif over theBrown and Rassler, pg. 110
camps in Haqqani country was compounded by domestic chaos.
Anti-Shi’a terrorist groups, spin-offs of the HUJI/HUA/HUM, initiated a campaign of sectarian murder that killed dozens of
Pakistani Shi’a—a campaign that is now being repeated by the same
groups in Baluchistan. Sharif’s government sent a letter to the
Taliban in Kandahar asking for assistance with the cross-border
The “traditional” Taliban, satisfied with their parochial dominance over Afghanistan, became increasingly irate with the behavior of the Haqqanis and their varied bona fide terrorist affiliates.
Numerous indications of this increased conflict between theBrown and Rassler, pg. 118
Haqqanis and the Taliban emerged beginning in January 1999,
when Taliban crackdowns on a traditional egg-throwing game in
Khost—declared “un-Islamic” by the Taliban—led to an uprising
by locals who attacked Taliban officials.160 The practice of appointing Kandahari officials to Taliban posts in the Haqqanis’ areas of
control—a practice that had led to mass desertions of Haqqani’s
men from the northern lines during the mid-1990s—continued to
fuel local anti-Taliban sentiments, and in January of 2000 an antiTaliban uprising broke out in Khost and Paktia.
The Haqqanis and Al-Qaeda effectively ignored the Taliban’s leadership.
“The Haqqanis were a significant exception to this trend of increasing isolation and opposition to al-Qa’ida during this period. In April of 2001, Jalaluddin Haqqani personally delivered a letter from Osama bin Laden to Mullah Omar, in which the al-Qa’ida leader denounced the restrictions imposed upon him by the Taliban. “It is surprising,” Bin Laden wrote, “that the United States is free to do whatever it feels like and I have been placed under restrictions. History will record this fact.””Brown and Rassler, pg. 118
An “Arab Afghan” Abdullah Anas described events succinctly:
But what the Taliban failed to realiseAnas, pg. 244
was that these men had no allegiance to anyone but bin Laden,
and respected no emir but bin Laden. Mullah Omar should have
realised it when bin Laden declared war on the Western crusaders and Jews in 1998 without his knowledge, but he didn’t. And
why should he? He was a simple mullah from a small village in
southern Afghanistan with little education outside of the
madrasa. And so in those camps Osama and his men plotted and
planned until their fruits were felt on 11 September 2001.
By 1999, it had become abundantly clear that the formal leadership of the Taliban was functionally incapable of exercising control over their nominal subordinates in Lōya Paktiā. By September of 2001, their lack of control would prove fatal to the Taliban government of Mullah Omar.
“Al-Qa’ida’s anti-American jihad, launched from Haqqani headquarters, had thus made operating outside of Haqqani-controlled territory in Afghanistan an increasingly prohibitive exercise for the foreign jihadis prior to 9/11. This, along with the deep history between the Haqqani network and the other regional and international militant groups operating in Afghanistan, helps to explain why it was to the Haqqanis’ refuge in Waziristan, and not the Taliban’s in Baluchistan, that these groups turned for safe haven after the American invasion of Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks in 2001.”Brown and Rassler, pg. 120
Now, we in the West don’t actually know all that much about Sirajuddin Haqqani’s teenage years. We know that at some point he attended the Darul Uloom Haqqania, and earned the right to use the surname Haqqani. We know that he was perceived as being foppish, paying close attention to his appearance and how well his beard was trimmed. He didn’t earn the distinction of Mawlawi like his father, but it’s quite likely that he participated in a Hajj during this time frame (later in life he has been somewhat busy). To my knowledge, there aren’t any publicly available images of him as a young adult. To the West, for the first 30 odd years of his life until he exploded onto the scene (both figuratively and literally) in the subsequent Taliban insurgency against the West, Sirajuddin Haqqani was an enigma within a riddle.
- Anas, Abdullah. To the mountains: My life in Jihad, from Algeria to Afghanistan. Oxford University Press, 2019.
- Azzam, Abdullah. Verses of Rahman in the Afghan jihad . Shahid Azzam Media Center, 1986 .
- Brown, Vahid, and Don Rassler. Fountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 1973-2012. Oxford University Press, 2013.
- Hegghammer, Thomas. The caravan: Abdallah Azzam and the rise of global jihad. Cambridge University Press, 2020.
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