The South Asia Channel

Inside the Haqqani network

Pakistan‘s Express Tribune reported this morning that the Haqqani network has begun what seems to be a "strategic retreat" to avoid military confrontation with Pakistani security forces, as U.S. pressure on Pakistan to go into their North Waziristan haven has risen. Anand Gopal, Mansur Khan Mahsud, and Brian Fishman outline the structure of the militant ...

Jalaluddin Haqqani (L) // Visual News/Getty Images
Jalaluddin Haqqani (L) // Visual News/Getty Images

Pakistan‘s Express Tribune reported this morning that the Haqqani network has begun what seems to be a "strategic retreat" to avoid military confrontation with Pakistani security forces, as U.S. pressure on Pakistan to go into their North Waziristan haven has risen. Anand Gopal, Mansur Khan Mahsud, and Brian Fishman outline the structure of the militant group, which is nominally led by the aging former anti-Soviet insurgent leader Jalaluddin Haqqani and operationally directed by his son, Sirajuddin.

The Haqqani Network’s organizational base is Miram Shah, where it operates from at least three compounds: the Miram Shah bazaar camp, which contains a madrassa and computer facilities; a compound in the suburb of Sarai Darpa Khel; and another in the suburb of Danday Darpa Khel, where members of Jalaluddin’s family reside.[i] Most major financial decisions, the organization of weapons acquisition and delivery, and the development of overall military strategy take place in Miram Shah.

As with other Afghan insurgent groups, the Haqqanis’ funds come from a variety of sources. Some of Sirajuddin’s brothers are believed to travel to the Persian Gulf region to raise money, relying on Jalaluddin’s networks from the mujahideen years and more recently established contacts. Within Afghanistan, commanders receive some cash and weapons from the group’s leaders in Miram Shah, but they are also expected to raise their own funds; methods include the collection of donations through mosques, taxation of trade in areas under their control, extortion from trucking companies, and cross-border smuggling.ii] The Haqqanis have also been implicated in a variety of kidnapping-for-ransom schemes, including the abduction of New York Times reporter David Rohde. One of Sirajuddin’s brothers, Badruddin, demanded millions of dollars for the release of Rohde and two Afghan colleagues.[iii]

The network broadly consists of four groups: those who had served under Jalaluddin during the Soviet era; those from Loya Paktiya who joined the movement since 2001; those from North Waziristan who have been associated with Haqqani or his madrassas over the years; and foreign (non-Pashtun) militants, including Arabs, Chechens, and Uzbeks. While Haqqani Network fighters on the ground in Afghanistan belong to a number of tribes, the vast majority of the network’s leaders in North Waziristan are from the Zadran tribe, and in particular from Haqqani’s Mezi clan and its allies. This does not, however, mean that the Haqqani movement is simply tribal; rather, under the secretive conditions in which the group operates, only those bound closely by family or clan ties can win the leadership’s trust. Those in the first group, who served under Jalaluddin, enjoy the most power. Newcomers from Loya Paktiya and foreign (non-Pashtun) commanders typically are not part of the inner leadership circle.[iv]

The Haqqani Network’s North Waziristan leadership — usually called the Miram Shah Shura — consists of a number of Haqqani family members and closely associated long-serving commanders. At the top of the network is Sirajuddin Haqqani, who oversees the group’s political and military activities and is the main liaison to the Mullah Muhammad Omar-led Quetta Shura Taliban, the Taliban’s leadership body (named for the capital of Pakistan’s Baluchistan province). He is also one of the network’s liaisons to Pakistani Taliban figures and al-Qaeda. He travels regularly into Afghanistan to coordinate with field commanders and occasionally to Peshawar and South Waziristan to connect with militants there.[v]

Sirajuddin’s deputy commander is Bakhti Jan, a prominent figure in North Waziristan politics who has played an important role liaising with the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other Taliban groups based in North Waziristan. Jan, who is considered Sirajuddin’s closest adviser, comes from a family of Islamist rebels — eight of his brothers fought against the Soviets under Jalaluddin and Yunus Khalis. Today many of his brothers and uncles are Haqqani commanders active in Loya Paktiya.[vi]

Sirajuddin’s political deputy is Jan Baz Zadran. Unlike the rest of the Miram Shah Shura, Baz Zadran is not a military commander and does not have experience fighting under Jalaluddin. However, he hails from the Haqqanis’ home village of Srani in the Garda Tseray district of Paktiya and is one of Sirajuddin’s most trusted associates.[vii] He is in charge of Haqqani Network finances and weapons and ammunition acquisitions, a position that gives him considerable authority in the movement.

A number of Haqqani family members also are involved in the Miram Shah Shura. These include the longtime commanders Haji Khalil and Ibrahim, two brothers of Jalaluddin, and Badruddin and Nasiruddin Haqqani, two of Jalaluddin’s sons. Nasiruddin, who is Sirajuddin’s half brother by way of Jalaluddin’s Arab wife, can speak Arabic and has acted as a liaison with al-Qaeda figures. For instance, senior al-Qaeda commander Abu Laith al-Libi (who was killed in a drone attack in 2008) was close to Nasiruddin.[viii] Before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, Abu Layth worked for Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, head of the Khaldan training camp, which was located in Haqqani territory in Khost province.

The remainder of the Miram Shah Shura is made up of Afghan and Pakistani commanders who split their time between North Waziristan and the front lines in Afghanistan. Among the prominent Afghan commanders are Nai Arsallah and Maulavi Noor Kasim, both from the Sabari district in Khost, and Muhammad Amin, Mira Jan, and Bahram Jan, from Khost’s Ali Sher district. Most of the Pakistani commanders have been associated with the Haqqanis since Soviet times. The most prominent was Darim Sedgai, believed to have been behind some high-profile assaults in Kabul. Sedgai was killed by "unknown gunmen" in early 2008.[ix]

Traveling frequently between Afghanistan and Pakistan, these commanders serve as the main link between Sirajuddin and the field commanders, although by 2009 Sirajuddin had been increasingly going to the front lines himself.[x] There are many field commanders in Afghanistan, but turnover is high because many get killed or captured. The most prominent are Mullah Sangin, who is believed to be holding Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl, a captured U.S. soldier, and Zakim Shah, the movement’s shadow governor of Khost province.

The field commanders typically recruit the group’s rank and file, often from the commanders’ home villages and districts. Unlike many Taliban members, who when not fighting work as farmers or do not work at all, a significant proportion of Haqqani fighters double as madrassa students. Many of them attend madrassas in North Waziristan, especially those built or funded by Jalaluddin’s network. This may contribute to the more radicalized, ideological orientation of some Haqqani fighters relative to the Quetta Shura.

Anand Gopal is a Kabul-based journalist who has reported for the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, and other outlets on Afghanistan and the insurgency. He is writing a history of Afghanistan after September 11, 2001 (Henry Holt). Mansur Khan Mahsud is the research coordinator for the FATA Research Center, an Islamabad-based think tank. He is from the Mahsud tribe of South Waziristan and has worked with several NGOs and news outlets as a researcher. He holds a masters degree in Pakistan studies from the University of Peshawar. Brian Fishman is a counterterrorism research fellow at the New America Foundation. This is excerpted from a longer Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative research paper on militancy in North Waziristan, part of the New America Foundation’s "Battle for Pakistan" series.

[i] Former Haqqani commander, AG interview, May 2009, Paktiya province; Farhat Taj, "Target: terror secretariat," The News International, April 4, 2009, 

[ii] Former Haqqani commanders, AG interviews, May 2009, Paktiya province; February 2010, Kabul.

[iii] David Rohde, "You Have Atomic Bombs, but We Have Suicide Bombers," The New York Times, October 20, 2009, 

[iv] This typology is based on numerous interviews with current and former Haqqani Network figures

[v] Former Haqqani commanders, AG interviews, May 2009, Paktiya province; February 2010, Kabul.

[vi] There are reports that Bakhti Jan died in late 2009, at the age of 50, while on pilgrimage to Mecca, but they have not been confirmed.

[vii] Haqqani commanders Ghani Muhammad, Malim Jan, AG interviews, February 2010.

[viii] Former Haqqani commander, AG interview, May 2009, Paktiya province.

[ix] Combined Joint Task Force-82 Press Release, "Coalition Forces Confirm Darim Sedgai Death," CJTF-82 January 26, 2008

[x] The author (AG) has sent Afghan associates to interview Sirajuddin and they have reported that he spends considerable time in Loya Paktiya, and particularly Paktika. This might be partly explained by the C.I.A. drone campaign in the tribal areas, which makes it dangerous for Haqqani to spend too much time there.

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