Small Wars Journal

The Haqqani Network: International Friends, Local Enemies

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 5:36pm

The Haqqani Network: International Friends, Local Enemies

Tom Davis

Introduction to The Haqqani Network

As much as the powers that be want everyone to believe that “terrorism” is a giant catch-all covering every group, the truth is that terrorist groups are extremely varied and unique. They can be massive groups like ISIS or smaller, localized cells. Regardless, one of the most effective ways to eliminate terrorist groups, control the spread of violent and extremist beliefs, and prevent future terrorism from proliferating is by studying groups and understanding them. This understanding allows folks from all walks of life a modicum of knowledge to best respond to any attacks and threats. Most people pay attention to the heavy hitters, but a group that needs more extensive study is the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other Central Asian countries. This group is much less infamous than Al Qaeda or ISIS, but no less deadly.

Brief History of The Haqqani Network

The Haqqani Network starts and ends with Jaluddin Haqqani and the radical Wahhabi doctrine he learned at the Dar-al-'Ulam Haqqaniya Deobandi Madrassa. Hailing from a tribal area of Afghanistan with deep ethnic ties, Haqqani developed radical Wahhabi and Islamist beliefs in his youth and during his Ph.D studies at the Haqqaniya Mosque. Haqqani returned to Afghanistan in the early 1970’s after completing his Ph.D and developed relationships with Hezb-i-Islami and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as he worked to actively undermine both the Shah and Afghanistan’s civilian government including Marxist parties and movements. Due to increasing pressure and pursuit from the Afghan government, Haqqani returned to Pakistan in 1978 but continued to build his Islamist connections and networks. These networks proved extremely useful when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics invaded Afghanistan.

The Haqqani Network began to develop more formally outside of Jaluddin Haqqani’s personal sphere when the Mujahedeen matured into a fierce resistance group. Working with the Mujahedeen, Haqqani became personal friends and allies with Osama Bin Laden and also courted the Central Intelligence Agency, Pakistan and wealthy Arab Gulf States for funding and support in his jihad against the USSR. This is a unique aspect that also makes the Haqqani Network exponentially more dangerous than the Taliban; while the Taliban and other Islamist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan work from fiercely loyal tribal bases and use local fanatics to dominate their countries, Haqqani developed his network to court support from Arabs and the West. After fighting the Soviets for a decade, Haqqani turned his attention away from insurgency and instead focused on international terrorism. This took the form of aiding Bin Laden, supporting the Taliban, and opening their coffers to foreign money and doctrines.

Ideology of The Haqqani Network

Ideology is an important aspect for any group; The Haqqani Network has a strict Islamist Fundamentalist outlook on the world, and believes in Wahhabi doctrine both within Islam and when interacting with infidels. The Haqqani Network has a relatively simple ideology, believing that the West needs to pull out of all Islamic countries and stop influencing their education and politics, and that Afghanistan (and all countries) should follow strict Sharia law interpretations.

The most unique aspect of the Haqqani Network is their focus on Western meddling in Islamic education. Most Islamic Terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda or ISIS are focused predominantly on military and political control and vicious attacks on the west, but the Haqqani Network has a strong focus on education and internal politics within Islamic countries. Looking at the background of the founder, it is not surprising that a man who has a Ph.D values education and understands the ability for schooling to influence children one way or the other. This unique perspective on Islam and the world led the Haqqani Network to ally with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban; One organization (Al-Qaeda) seeks a worldwide reach for Islam, and another organization (The Taliban) that dominates the politics and education systems of a country through Islamization and Sharia Law. This ideological alignment with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban illustrates one of the principal tactics of the Haqqani Network: work with other groups to secure funding, foreign fighters and advance Islamist thoughts.

Tactics of The Haqqani Network

The Haqqani Network and its affiliates have been fighting insurgent style warfare in Afghanistan since the 1970’s. They are experts at asymmetric warfare and fighting from small terrorist cells. They do not seek to re-invent guerilla warfare or try new techniques when it comes to waging war and carrying out terrorist attacks. Hospital bombings, ambushes on police forces, and attacks on schools are commonplace tactics for the Haqqani Network. They are also noted for conducting attacks close to the border with Pakistan and fleeing into the Waziristan area of Pakistan where they have built up support among locals. There is no need to change what has worked for decades against perceived outside threats to the Islamic fundamentalist lifestyle in Afghanistan. Where the Haqqani Network is very innovative tactically is in their strategy to acquire money and support.

Most insurgent and terrorist networks operate as a loosely affiliated group with multiple layers of cells; this structure means that they are also wary of any outsiders or outside influence. During the insurgency in Afghanistan, most Mujahedeen insurgent groups were not welcoming to Arabs and other foreign Muslims, but Haqqani welcomed folks like Osama Bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam. As his network developed, Haqqani also welcomed their money, political support, and Wahhabi doctrine. This tactic, accepting foreign money and foreign fighters has allowed the Haqqani Network to remain relevant for decades while other groups of fighters have withered without foreign money and foreign fighters. It is no surprise for the Haqqani Network to operate with a large foreign footprint, as the founder was educated in a Madrassa that was funded by foreign, Wahhabi money. The money and the foreign fighters allow the Haqqani Network to keep a continuous flow into Afghanistan where they are able to conduct insurgent activities and maintain pressure on NATO forces and the government of Afghanistan.

Current Status of The Haqqani Network

Currently, The Haqqani Network operates out of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan, along the Afghan-Pakistan Border. They utilize Pakistan as a sanctuary area because they are seen as a key ally by the ISI. The Haqqani Network administers many areas and allows other terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad to operate in their jurisdiction. Starting in 2012, The Haqqani Network began to shift back to Afghanistan. Drone strikes and surgical raids devastated the Haqqani Network in Pakistan and with the US Withdrawal starting, they felt safer in Afghanistan.

The current state of the Haqqani Network is designed to leverage their past success while setting them up for a position of power in Afghan politics for the future. They conduct regular insurgent warfare against NATO and US forces, but also reach out regularly to the Afghan government stating their goals of ousting the foreign invaders and setting up a completely Islamist government. Usually, these calls do not fall on deaf ears, and the Afghan government is more willing to work with the Haqqani Network than with the Taliban. The Haqqani Network’s extensive foreign contacts also help when conducting negotiations; in 2012 the United States even held talks with the Haqqani Network through the network’s connections with Pakistan. Despite multiple talks and attempts at peace, the Haqqani Network continues to train, finance and carry out terrorist and insurgent attacks to the current day.

Some Conclusions About The Haqqani Network

The Haqqani Network is such a dangerous terrorist group because they leverage international financing and fighters in a very surgical manner. Other groups, like ISIS and Al-Qaeda have a worldwide focus, executing attacks in varied nations. While these attacks may cause fear and terror, life usually goes back to normal. The Haqqani Network though, is able to leverage international financing and fighters to wage local insurgency and attacks. In other words, they are able to concentrate the resources and aims of worldwide terrorists into one specific cause and area. By using education in conjunction with their terrorism and insurgency, they also have effective propaganda and reach into the households of the areas they control. By studying this group and limiting the foreign influx it prevents them from waging insurgency and forces them to carry out terrorist attacks on local populations to retain control, and if this is coupled with effective education from counter-terrorist initiatives eventually people in affected areas will see the heinous nature of The Haqqani Networks.

Works Cited

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Bergen, P., & Tiedemann, K. (2011). Washington's Phantom War: The Effects of the U.S. Drone Program in Pakistan. Foreign Affairs, 90(4), 12-18.

Hoffman, B. (2012). Combating Terrorism: Adapting Global Strategy to the Evolving Threats of a New Decade. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, 13(2), 91-97.

Indurthy, R. (2011). THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION'S STRATEGY IN AFGHANISTAN. International Journal on World Peace, 28(3), 7-52.

Krasner, S. (2012). Talking Tough to Pakistan: How to End Islamabad's Defiance. Foreign Affairs, 91(1), 87-96.

Lefeuvre, G. (2012). Afghanistan’s future lies in its past. In Genrich T. (Author) & Kristianasen W. (Ed.), The Best of Le Monde diplomatique 2012 (pp. 132-140). Pluto Press.

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Pakistan and the World (Chronology: July - September 2011). (2011). Pakistan Horizon, 64(4), 121-136.

RIEDEL, B. (2014). THE AFGHAN MUJAHEDIN. In What We Won: America's Secret War in Afghanistan, 1979–89 (pp. 40-55). Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.

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Wagner, C. (2010). Pakistan's Foreign Policy between India and Afghanistan. Sicherheit Und Frieden (S F) / Security and Peace, 28(4), 246-251.

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About the Author(s)

Tom Davis runs the website Steel and Stylus. He served two deployments to Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division. He worked as a Private Security Contractor after ending his time in the Army and is now a Graduate Student.


Tasmanian Devil

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 7:11am

And the elephant in the room that no one want to talk about. That the Haqqani Network is, effectively, an operating arm of the Pakistani ISI. Always has been and, until the problem is effectively addressed, always will be.


Thu, 11/16/2017 - 4:32am

In reply to by Warlock

Warlock wrote - 'Part of the problem with the Haqqani Network is it falls into a seam for the U.S. '

I would argue it is those folks who are genuinely motivated to inflict communal violence by a human fantasy grounded in a divine entity that occupy your 'seam'.

Folks(Haqqani, Bin Laden(s), Mad Mullahs, Daesh, ISI etc.) who are as equally inclined to mass violence but embrace philosophy /sentiment grounded in the teaching of Adam Smith, Machiavelli Thucydides, de Cervantes and perhaps Clausewitz dominate/occupy the remaining 99% of the battle eco-system.

Our soda-straw has been fixed on the inconsequential 'seam' since 9/11 when, those wanting a greater share of the economic pie in the Gulf, got some of their homegrown Fruitcake to provoke us in a ruse heralding the super-natural.

The dramatic proposals currently being offered up by the HoS suggests our soda-straw might be beginning to move/expand into reality. Obviously that's a good thing but it means that those who attacked us have outsmarted/out-manuverved us and essentially gotten away with mass-murder.

We've all got one,


Mon, 11/13/2017 - 1:35pm

In reply to by RantCorp

Of course, all sorts of exceptions are granted when such activities are aimed against the infidel, regardless of whether they're really documented in Koranic literature or not. Perception and propaganda feed desire, become reality.

Part of the problem with the Haqqani Network is it falls into a seam for the U.S. -- is it a terrorist group with a political agenda? (Yes) Is it a gang with a goal of increasing its social power and enriching its leaders? (Yes) This sets it outside the mainstream characterization of terrorist groups, who may engage in criminal activities, but primarily to finance their political and military activities, and criminal cartels or gangs, who want no interference from the existing political and civil structure, but have little desire to take over the job.


Mon, 11/13/2017 - 9:38am

I find it staggering that in this entire essay not once does the author note that the Haqqani Network has been a major heroin manufacturer for more than 30 years. If only to highlight the revelatory inconsistency that any Wahhabist would be compelled, by the word of the Prophet himself no less, to slaughter any man,women or child remotely involved with heroin cultivation / production.

IMHO drug dealing is the primary reason the Network exists/flourishes - especially the younger, post-Jellaledin Haqqani generation.

I can't help but think many folks need to paint a grandiose 'clash of civilizations', 'religous fanatism ', 'GWOT' etc.etc to explain away our lack of success, rather than the simple but fundamental problem that perhaps we don't understand the enemy nor the nature of the war we are in.