The chief of the deadliest of all Afghan Taliban factions was instrumental in winning allegiance of top dissidents for Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, the successor of Mullah Omar, The Express Tribune has learnt from Taliban cadres.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, the head of the Haqqani Network and second-in-command in the Taliban hierarchy, delivered a rare speech at a recent gathering where a top dissident Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir pledged loyalty to the new Taliban supremo whose ascendency has created schisms in the ultraorthodox militia.
Back in the fold: Senior dissident swears allegiance to Mullah Mansoor
Mullah Zakir, who formerly headed the Taliban’s powerful military commission, swore allegiance to Mullah Mansoor after “some of his conditions were met by Khalifa Sirajuddin Haqqani”, a Taliban leader said.
According to one of his letters, Mullah Zakir wanted a review of all major Taliban policies such as suicide bombings, peace talks with the Americans and Kabul, the Doha-based political office, Taliban judicial and intelligence systems and the policy on amending the Afghan constitution.
It was Sirajuddin, known as ‘Khalifa’ among the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, who secured top positions for Mullah Omar’s son Mullah Yaqoob, and brother Mullah Abdul Manan in the Taliban hierarchy.
The two had abandoned their opposition to Mullah Mansoor months ago, but they had no position in the group until last week when Manan was given membership in the leadership council. Similarly, Yaqoob has been assigned the task of leading the Taliban’s military affairs in 15 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
“With the induction of Mullah Zakir, Yaqoob and Manan in the new Rehbari Shura, or leadership council, Sirajuddin now enjoys a comfortable position in the council because they are considered as his camp members,” another Taliban leader told The Express Tribune.
Sirajuddin welcomed Mullah Zakir’s rejoining the Taliban movement, and urged the Taliban to focus on fighting. “It is spring season now. Mujahideen are happily going to the battlefield,” he said in his speech to Taliban leaders in reference to the start of the fighting season in the war-torn Afghanistan. The Taliban routinely launch ‘Spring Offensive’ in late April. An audio recording of the speech was made available to The Express Tribune.
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Referring to internal differences, he said: “If we are waging jihad for martyrdom and can live as refugees, we should also accept leadership. There were some misunderstandings, but all leaders are loyal to the system.” He did not mention peace talks and only emphasised on unity and fighting.
Some Taliban sources say Sirajuddin’s uncle, Khalilur Rahman Haqqani, a senior member of the Haqqani Network, is also helping in efforts to bring the dissidents back. Both Sirajuddin and Khalil are on the US wanted list and carry huge bounties.
In January, the United States military announced for the first time that its counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan were not targeting the Haqqani Network, which is fighting alongside the Taliban.
“They are not part of that designation right now…The Haqqanis are principally a focus of the Afghan security forces,” Voice of America quoted Lt-Gen John “Mick” Nicholson, who leads US and NATO forces in Afghanistan told the Senate’s Armed Services Committee on Thursday when asked if the US forces targeted the Haqqanis as part of their counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th, 2016.