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The Haqqani Group and India- the danger ahead.

Paper No. 5681                    Dated 4-Apr-2014

By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan

It is generally believed that the Haqqani group is a regional player in Afghanistan restricted to Loya Paktia provinces and Khost as well as the Northern Waziristan of Pakistan. This could have been the position till about five years ago, but it is not so today.

Despite the NATO coalition operations which involved "raid, disturb and destroy" the lines of communications of the Haqqani territory and selective drone strikes in northern Waziristan, it is now admitted that the sustained counter insurgency campaign against the military capabilities has not weakened the group to any significant level. On other hand, the influence of this group has slowly crept northwards towards the outskirts of Kabul and beyond in the northern regions where the northern alliance is supposed to have a significant hold in that territory.

What is more. The Haqqani group has been responsible for many recent spectacular attacks in Kabul itself.

From the Indian point of view, the attack on the Indian embassy compound in Kabul on 7th July 2008, was a combined operation of Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Haqqani group. The suicide bomber who rammed his vehicle near the gate of the embassy was one Hamza Shukhoor, a Pakistani national supplied by the LET and trained by the Haqqani Group to strike against Indian interests. The involvement of the ISI has been vividly described in the article by Carlotta Gall in New York Times of March 2014.

There is a view here in India, that the Haqqanis have targeted Indian interests only on the instigation of Pakistan ISI and had otherwise have not directly attacked Indian assets in Afghanistan. This "ostrich like" view does not hold good anymore. Given time and space the Haqqani group is likely to strike at India’s economic and strategic interests that are considerable now directly and indirectly.

From a long term point of view the Haqqanis should be seen as having considerable potential to disturb the Indian security interests. While it is known that the LET and the Jaish-e-Mohamed have participated operationally with the Haqqani group by way of training and supply of suicide bombers, it is a question of time before the Indian Mujahideen are also taken for training of the group. For this purpose, the recruits need not even go to Afghanistan, but stop at Miranshah in Pakistan itself for training. Miranshah is well known from the Soviet times as the central assembly point and conduit for infiltration into Afghanistan. The Haqqani group is said to be running two Madrassas, a big mosque and quite close to a security base of Pakistan.

Full details of the nexus between the Haqqani group and Pakistan’s ISI are given in chapter 5 of the book just published titled "Fountainhead of Jihad" by Vahid Brown and Don Rassler (pages 151 to 182) and what is said there is not being repeated here. They continue to enjoy royal treatment while moving men and materials from and to Afghanistan from North Waziristan and in making raids into Afghan territory and returning to safe havens within Pakistan.

The Haqqani territory neatly fits in with Pakistan’s archaic concept of "strategic depth" in the east in the event of a conflict on its borders. Counter insurgency operations especially by the American forces against the Haqqani network have been thwarted by Pakistan’s establishment, by deliberate leakage of intended raids and letting the Haqqani groups to return to safe havens inside Pakistan.

The problem faced by the American operational planners would be- what to do with the Miranshah centre- the main hub where the raids are planned and supplies provided, a position very similar to what the Indian forces are experiencing in dealing with the Kashmiri militants who infiltrate from across the border. A sense of "helplessness" is noticed.

It is admitted by many analysts who have followed the events in Afghanistan that the threat from the Haqqani Group cannot be eliminated without ultimately taking steps to disrupt the organisation in Miranshah that is under Pak control. The drone attacks by the US are also seen to be more severe on the TTP than on the Haqqani leaders for reasons best known to them.

As the US draw down comes nearer ( end of the year?), Pakistan’s relationship with the Haqqanis will be more critical. It is to be expected from the trends seen so far that with the withdrawal, Pakistan’s support to the Haqqani group will increase both in providing sanctuaries and in providing "strategic and operational guidance." Now with the fig leaf gone, Pakistan can be expected to use the Haqqani group as its proxy in developing and furthering Pakistan’s own interests in Afghanistan. But strengthening the Haqqani group has the potential to destabilise not only Afghanistan but other countries in the region as well.

This scenario is unlikely to change and perhaps become worse even if Pakistan manages to have a deal with the TTP or the US with the so called non hardline Taliban in future.