Afghanistan Influence Map: Sirajuddin Haqqani Emerges as Number 2
The so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) or the Taliban officially referred to as Defacto Authority (DfA) internationally has established an acting government on the decree of the Supreme Leader Mullah Hebtullah Akhundzada.
The hierarchy that runs down from the supreme leader has a prime minister and three deputy prime ministers, however Sirajuddin Haqqani the acting interior minister who only recently appeared in public is the de facto number 2.
This represents the clout that the Haqqani network enjoys in the Taliban.
The BBC reports that Sirajuddin Haqqani heads the Haqqani network which is a designated foreign terrorist organisation by the US maintaining close relations with al-Qaeda.
The Taliban’s Key Ministers
In September last year, Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, one of the movement's founders and senior most leaders, who is on a UN blacklist was appointed as the acting Prime Minister.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who led the Doha talks with the U.S. and was the Deputy leader of the Taliban under Mullah Omar was appointed as the first deputy of the Prime Minister, Abdul Salam Hanafi as the Second Deputy Prime Minister and Abdul Kabir the third Deputy Prime Minister. Mullah Yaqoob the son of Mullah Omar is the acting defence minister.
Sirajuddin was appointed the acting interior minister seen to be possibly lower in the hierarchy, but not so in the IEA today.
Importance in Public Interface
Sirajuddin is referred in the media as “al Haji Khalifa,” one who has completed the Haj pilgrimage – a mark of distinction for the Muslims and head of the Caliphate or Emirate literally pitching him above the prime minister and the deputy prime ministers.
Sirajuddin Haqqani on the wanted list of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is also given greater importance in public interface that the Taliban or the IEA leaders are having in Kabul and within Afghanistan especially in the last few months.
The media in Afghanistan closely controlled under the Taliban gives higher credits to statements by Sirajuddin Haqqani even when acting deputy prime ministers are present in the same meeting.
Appearing for the first time before the Afghan media, Haqqani speaking at the 13th graduation ceremony of students from the Kabul Police Academy stated as per Tolonews that the country will not pose an external threat. “Our soil will not be a threat to anyone. The Islamic Emirate is committed to upholding the commitments it made in Doha,” he said.
Interestingly of the 377 police members who graduated from the Academy 21 were females a point stressed by the Interior Minister.
Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi – a prominent Uzbek leader whose inclusion has been claimed by the Taliban as a sign of ethnic inclusiveness also spoke at the meeting, but the Tolonews gave greater prominence to Haqqani’s statements
Interaction with Foreign Delegations
Deborah Lyons, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan who was recently in Kabul met with the acting interior minister and thanked him for support to international aid agencies. As per Bakhtar News Agency – a pro government outlet in turn thanked Ms. Lyons for “presenting a true picture of Afghanistan at the relevant UN meetings and assured her that the Islamic Emirate is committed to the security of foreign organizations and Wants peaceful life and relations with the world.”
Apparently foreign visitors are now invariably making it a point to meet the acting interior minister.
Sirajuddin Haqqani during a meeting with United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet was also assured that the Taliban Supreme Leader has given a general amnesty under which revenge against Afghans who served under the Republic government in the past or the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) is not accepted.
This despite the fact that there have been a number of incidents which have been recorded where in personnel belonging to the previous government as well as the military have been targeted by Taliban commanders in the provinces.
The Taliban claimed that they have dismissed around 4000 plus cadres who were not following the rules. This also underlines that the Interior minister’s writ may not run right through the organization to the grassroots.
As the Chinese are looking at expanding investment in Afghanistan, the Chinese Ambassador to Kabul Wang Yu met the Acting Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani. China is concerned over state of security in the country and have warned their businessmen not to venture in investing without a high degree of assurance on security.
Thus, it was not surprising that Ambassador Wang approached the acting interior minister possibly for gaining such an assurance.
In an interaction with cricket players, Haqqani termed them as the ambassadors of peace and representatives of the nation. Haqqani said as per Pajhwok Afghan News, “Cricket players were peace ambassadors and representatives of people,” and assured them security. Traditionally the Taliban have resented western sports but here given the popularity of the game in Afghanistan the interior minister chose to make an exception sending a message that cricket players are to be treated with respect in the country.
Performance of Interior Ministry
Compared to the statements made the performance of the Interior Ministry of the Taliban has been poor.
Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in Geneva reported that said from August 15, 2021, to February 15, 2022, UNAMA and the Office High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) have documented at least "1,153 civilian casualties, including 397 deaths in Afghanistan." “While the decline in hostilities has seen a sharp decrease in civilian casualties, the human rights situation for many Afghans is of profound concern,” Bachelet said. “Several suicide and non-suicide attacks were perpetrated by ISKP against Shi’a Muslims, mostly from the Hazara ethnic group.”
Commander of US Central Command General Frank Kent McKenzie said that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan branch (ISIS-K) in an interaction with a Congressional Committee in Washington recently. “While the security situation in parts of Afghanistan may have improved since the Taliban takeover in August, I’m not sure it’s a place you want to be.” Said McKenzie.
Thus, the Interior Minister may have much to answer for.
Geographic Division of Responsibility
There also appears to be an unwritten geographic division of responsibility of between Sirajuddin Haqqani and Mullah Yaqub Mujahid. While Haqqani seems to be mainly focused on the Eastern provinces abutting Pakistan including the Zadran belt which is the core base of the Haqqani clan, Yaqub is possibly concentrating on the south the Taliban’s home ground.
Recently, Bakhtar News Agency reported that “Alhaj Khalifa Sirajuddin Haqqani” visited Ghazni while Mawlawi Mohammad Yaqub Mujahid, acting Minister of National Defense, visited Helmand and Nimroz provinces in the south.
Battalion of Suicide Bombers & Al Qaeda
Sirajuddin Haqqani’s first public interaction when he took over as the interior minister was with families of suicide bombers who had volunteered to sacrifice their lives during the insurgency.
He gave them a small cash grant and promised them land. The emphasis on suicide bombing has continued with the Taliban reportedly planning to raise one such battalion in the North
Given this information, Haqqani could also be responsible for areas in the North where he is reported to be training a battalion of suicide bombers. The Haqqani network had the ill repute of being behind the most complex terrorist attacks on the Republic government and forces during the two decades of insurgency.
In a conventional scenario these suicide bombers could be trained to carry out attacks on high value targets such as leaders and well defended compounds.
This may have been with reference to a conventional war in the light of the Russian assault on Ukraine in the last few days.
With links of the Haqqani Network continuing with the al Qaeda, these suicide bombers could be provided, “on loan,” to the global terrorist networks.
Role of Pakistan
The Haqqani network is closely linked with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan which has been using the “asset,” for disrupting Indian presence in Afghanistan including an attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul on 08 October 2009 killing 17 including the Indian Defence Attaché and wounding 63.
Sirajuddin Haqqani assured in a public meeting that Afghanistan does not pose any threat to its neighbours. This may have been with reference to a conventional war in the light of the Russian assault on Ukraine.
However here the acting Interior Minister of Afghanistan will have much to answer for.
The Taliban poses a different threat to neighbours as well as within. While the Taliban had succeeded in containing violence in the past few months there is an increase in the levels of attacks in the past two weeks indicating a degree of security vacuum in the country.
In addition, there has been a surge in violence in Pakistan.
Teehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the "ideological twin" of the Afghan Taliban, is mainly responsible and inspire by the success of its parent seeks to establish their interpretation of Sharia - a hardline form of Islamic governance - in Pakistan.
Clearly without the sanctuaries and support to the TTP in Afghanistan this success would not have been forthcoming.
The larger-than-life image that has been built around the acting interior minister of the Taliban internally as well as externally implicitly implies his being the No 2 in the organization, pushing the Prime Minister Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund and Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar apart from other top leaders to the sidelines.
Does this augur well for the security and stability in Afghanistan remains to be seen? What threat Sirajuddin Haqqani on the FBI wanted list poses to regional and global security also needs to be followed up?