August 19, 2021 – 20:58
The Taliban have left the security of the Afghan capital, Kabul, to senior members of the Haqqani Network, which has close ties to foreign jihadist groups, including al-Qaeda.
Western intelligence officials say the fact is alarming and runs counter to the Taliban’s commitment to pursue a more moderate path than when they ruled the country from 1996-2001.
The situation also leaves open the possibility of al-Qaeda being welcomed in Afghanistan, which runs counter to promises made by Taliban leaders during diplomatic talks in Qatar with US officials last year not to allow the country to return to Afghanistan. a safe haven for foreign jihadists.
On Thursday, Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the National Reconciliation Council of Afghanistan, a group of prominent figures and tribal elders involved in the Qatari talks, met with Khalil al-Rahman Haqqani and his entourage in Kabul. Mr Abdullah later said publicly that Khalil al-Rahman Haqqani would oversee security in the Afghan capital and that he had given assurances that he “would work hard to ensure proper security for the people of Kabul”.
The US Treasury Department identified Khalil al-Rahman Haqqani as a global terrorist in February 2011, offering a $ 5 million reward for information leading to his capture. His name is also on the United Nations terrorist list.
The meeting between Mr. Abdullah and Khalil al-Rahman Haqqani took place hours before the Taliban announced the formation of an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
“The fact that Khalil al-Rahman Haqqani is in charge of security in Kabul is shocking,” a British intelligence official told VOA on condition of anonymity. “The Hakan network and al-Qaeda have a long history together; it can be argued that they are intertwined and are unlikely to sever ties.”
Retired British diplomat Ivor Roberts told VOA that putting members of the Hakan network to oversee Kabul security is like putting “the fox to guard the chicken coop”.
Mr Roberts, a senior adviser on the Anti-Extremism Project, a nonprofit network that studies extremist groups, said he was surprised by the move. “I thought, from an image point of view, the Taliban would be a little smarter. But they are being presented with the worst elements of their coalition, which sends a terrible signal to women, girls and civil society. I think it increases “the possibility of Afghanistan becoming an incubator for international terrorism again.”
He added: “I do not think they will ever sever ties with al-Qaeda. They are closely linked and have always been so.”
In an agreement that the administration of US President Donald Trump reached with the Taliban in February 2020, the leaders of this group agreed to “not allow any of its members, or other individuals or groups, including al-Qaeda, to use the land of Afghanistan.” to threaten the security of the United States and its allies. “
Osama bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda, led from his base in Afghanistan the September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington that sparked a 20-year-old US-led military intervention in the Central Asian country. .
In a speech to the country on Monday, President Biden said the United States had met the goal of intervening in Afghanistan: responding to those who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, and guaranteeing that al-Qaeda would no longer use Afghanistan as a base for other attacks on the US.
The Hakan network is considered a branch of the Taliban, but operates with greater autonomy than other factions. Since its inception in the 1980s as an anti-Soviet force, the network has become more integrated with the Taliban, anti-terrorism experts say.
The network’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is also one of the top Taliban leaders and is the nephew of Khalil al-Rahman Haqqani, who is currently in charge of security in the Afghan capital.
The Hakani Network has been accused, or has claimed responsibility in the past for some of the bloodiest attacks in Afghanistan, including the 2008 attack on the Serena luxury hotel, the 2012 attack by a group of militants who blew themselves up at the US base in Khost, as and the 2017 explosion near the German embassy in Kabul that left 96 dead.
During the uprising against the Soviets in the 1980s, the Hakan group was among the first to welcome the arrival of foreign Muslim fighters, including Osama bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda. The two groups formed links between them, according to analysts Don Rassler and Vahid Brown.
According to expert Peter Bergen, the Hakani network and al-Qaeda ran training camps together in Pakistan’s North Waziristan province, following the US intervention in Afghanistan. The Hakan network also helped bin Laden flee to Pakistan as US forces approached in 2001.
Taliban officials insist there are no longer links to al-Qaeda, although they claim some old sympathies exist.
Asked on Sunday about the risk of al-Qaeda returning to Afghanistan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was in Afghanistan’s self-interest not to harbor terrorist groups harming the West.
“They know what happened the last time they sheltered terrorists who attacked America,” Mr Blinken said in an interview with NBC. / VOA