Who on earth are the Haqqanis?

Published: September 22, 2011
Allegedly based in the North Waziristan tribal region and in some provinces across the border in Afghanistan, the most lethal of all Taliban insurgent groups has struck serious blows to diplomatic relations between the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Allegedly based in the North Waziristan tribal region and in some provinces across the border in Afghanistan, the most lethal of all Taliban insurgent groups has struck serious blows to diplomatic relations between the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan.


The Haqqani network is the talk of Washington and Islamabad, seen as pivotal to the endgame in Afghanistan and probably trending on Twitter. However, few seem certain about the exact location and structure of this elusive group.

Allegedly based in the North Waziristan tribal region and in some provinces across the border in Afghanistan, the most lethal of all Taliban insurgent groups has struck serious blows to diplomatic relations between the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The US blames the network for most attacks on international forces based in Afghanistan, including the 2008 assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in the same year and the Kandahar jailbreak earlier this year.

The most serious attack was last week’s 20-hour commando-style assault, carried out in Kabul’s highly fortified green zone, on the American embassy and the country headquarters of Nato. The US also claims the network was behind this attack.

What is the Haqqani network and what makes it, as officials in Washington have put it, the most dangerous group on earth?

The answer to these questions, according to experts on the issue, lies in understanding the organisational structure, combat capabilities, fundraising abilities and cross-border sanctuaries it has on either side of the 0Durand Line.

(Read: America’s SPECTRE syndrome in Afghanistan)

The leadership

Jalaluddin Haqqani founded the group, deriving strength from his Zadran tribe, but he no longer has daily operational command over the group.

“His role in fact is limited to the spiritual guidance of the associates … he is the binding force that keep them together,” said Brigadier (Retd) Muhammad Saad, an expert on Taliban insurgency. “He is too old and too frail to lead the group.”

In January it was reported that Jalaluddin, also known as Khalifa or Caliph among his group, died of natural causes in the Khost province of Afghan. The news was later proved to be untrue and his current whereabouts are unknown.

His son Sirajuddin Haqqani is now leading the group.

Siraj, however, does not have total control. His role, besides being the overall head, is limited to non-military strategic issues. His remit is largely political and includes negotiations with other groups and dealing with authorities in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“He hardly deals with the group’s military issues,” said a commander belonging to the network by telephone from Mirali, a town in North Waziristan where it supposedly has a strong presence.

A rallying figure in tribal badlands

Siraj is such a powerful figure due to the respect he commands from other groups, such as Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, in tribal areas. “It looks like he is the one magnet everybody wants to stick to,” said Fida Khan, an Islamabad-based journalist who has been covering militancy in Pakistan for a Japanese publication for more than a decade.

“From the militants’ perspective, Siraj is the most charismatic leader acceptable to all,” wrote slain Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shehzad in an article last year.

But the network is not all about Siraj, though the Haqqani family tries to controls most of its activities. The group is divided into broader categories for specific objectives and members have well-defined roles.

Sangeen Zadran and Baduruddin Haqqani

Mullah Sangeen Zadran is the network’s main military commander. “He is the man,” said a fighter from the group about Sangeen, who reportedly has thousands of volunteers under his control.

According to some reports, Sangeen is the nephew of Jalaluddin and belongs to the Zadran tribe from which the Haqqani family hails. There is no confirmation of this, however.

Sangeen, though, must defer to Badaruddin Haqqani, one of Siraj’s younger brothers. This seems another example of the Haqqanis’ conscious attempts to keep control within their family.

Last month the US State Department added Sangeen to their list of specially designated global terrorists. The designation allows the US to freeze Sangeen’s assets, prevent him from using financial institutions and prosecute him for terrorist activities. The State Department describes Sangeen as ‘a senior lieutenant to Haqqani network leader Sirajuddin’. Sangeen is also the shadow governor for Paktika province in Afghanistan.

Nasiruddin Haqqani, also known as Dr Khan

Another son of the family, Nasiruddin, is thought to be the chief fundraising official of the group, operating across the Arab world, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

According to a couple of individuals who were in touch with the family before 9/11, Nasir is the son of Jalaluddin’s Arab wife, which makes him an ideal person to raise funds from rich families from the Gulf.

Last year it was reported that Pakistani intelligence agencies arrested Nasir, popularly known as Dr Khan or Dr Alamgir, before freeing him.


According to Brigadier Saad, what makes the Haqqani network unique is its capability to improvise according to the situation.

“They appear to have remarkable abilities to adapt,” said journalist Fida Khan. “They can disperse and then re-gather overnight,” he added, “This makes them less vulnerable for penetration from outside and crackdowns.”

Published in The Express Tribune, September 22nd, 2011.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • BruteForce
    Sep 22, 2011 - 7:45AM

    Just imagine such a group turning on the Pakistani state. There are many examples of this happening- TTP, LeJ are the most famous ones.

    Why would you want to not take action against them. Come on, you guys are a bum-power!


  • Babloo
    Sep 22, 2011 - 7:46AM

    This looks like a mythical force with super-human abilities. The Haqannis look like the lords of Waziristan. Maybe they should apply to UN as a member state status. How do they get there supplies of arms, food, petrol etc ? Do they buy it from the establishment or get it free of cost for being the greatest strategic assets of the strategic state ?


  • vasan
    Sep 22, 2011 - 9:45AM

    Pak is in a fix. If they act against all the terror groups ,they have created,nurtured and spawned on others, Pakistan will be become a battle ground for decades. If they do not act on them, they will take over Pakistan slowly and apply the most dreaded Sharia in Pakistan turning it to the medieval ages, Remember the warning from US(Colin Powel/Richard Armitage). It may come true also.


  • MS
    Sep 22, 2011 - 11:46AM

    Well, we are already in the medieval ages we don’t have water, electricity, fuel and gas. Recommend

  • Noor
    Sep 22, 2011 - 1:03PM

    US, knowing very well the influence of Haqqanies on 75% Afghanistan, is negotiating power sharing formula with them & at the same time asking Pakistan to fight with them.

    If Pakistan agrees, it creates another major enemy in the west, as it already has one in the east.

    Why US wants Pakistan to have hostile neighbours all around, if it has an iota of sincerity with Pakistan?

    If US & NATO, with the entire world’s resources, cannot fight Haqqanies in Afghanistan, how can Pakistan alone do it out of its limited resources of Military Human Resource & Armament, which is already committed along two major borders as well as in counter insurgency operations within?

    If it is true that Haqqanies operate from inside Pakistani borders, HOW INCAPABLE(or non-serious) NATO IS, THAT IT CAN’T SEAL JUST ONE SMALL PORTION OF BORDER OF AFGHANISTAN?


  • xOYA
    Sep 22, 2011 - 1:20PM

    the day is not far when wel just get BOMBED . so many terrorists groups in Pakistan


  • Zain Ally
    Sep 22, 2011 - 1:34PM

    This article fails to mention the Pakistani ties to the Haqqani Network. If the US is blaming the government of having the ties, there must be some itsy bitsy truth to it. Where are the juicy bits, Zia?


    Sep 22, 2011 - 4:25PM

    Thats a good write up on Haqqanis but what about their relationship with Pak intelligence agencies and how much control Pakistan has over them which we would like to know. Will ET throw some light on it soon ?


  • Khan
    Sep 22, 2011 - 4:29PM

    The answer to your question is simple … How many attacks they have carried out? Few hundred ?
    When the USSR left no one asked them to hand over those weapons besides one must not forget these people were trained in making weapons for that purpose.
    These tribal areas were always independent … They have been fighting the British empire before partition too so Who was supplying them at that time?
    Its a well known fact that you take any sophisticated weapon from anywhere in the world and show it to some one in a small shop in Tribal areas and they will make an exact replica of that. Every one left them after USSR’s withdrawal and those factories and shops selling illegals guns remained there as it was their only businesses and the buyers were those warlords who were busy fighting each other on daily basis during civil war that started after 1989, that no one bothered to talk about for many years in the West or East.Recommend

  • Hani
    Sep 22, 2011 - 4:42PM

    yes! so true! and the aliens are coming too! they wont spare even one of us! they will slay us all! earth scums! Recommend

  • Khalid Rahim
    Sep 22, 2011 - 9:36PM

    There is one Haqqani representing Pakistan in Washington DC?


  • Me
    Sep 23, 2011 - 12:16AM

    In answer to Babloo’s query. It is a well known fact that thes guys raise funds through crime, drugs, kidnappings an so on.


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