What Jalaluddin Haqqani’s death means

The death of Jalaluddin Haqqani, experts believe, will have little bearing on the militant network that bears his name. In much the same way that the Afghan Taliban lives on without Mullah Omar and Al Qaeda has picked up the pieces post-Bin Laden. At the time of writing there are as yet no confirmed reports as to which side of the Af-Pak border he breathed his last. If it turns out that it was over here, this will inevitably mean some tough questions for new premier Imran Khan when the top US diplomat swings by today. The suspected presence of the Haqqani Network (HN) on Pakistani soil has long been a sticking point in the bilateral relationship.

To be sure, cracking down on any possible militant safe-havens is in the national interest. This is a point that Prime Minister Iman Khan recently underscored when he pledged that his government would offer all-out support to the Army. Thereby suggesting that the previous period of confrontation is firmly in the past. Though there are those who contend that, by rights, it is the military establishment’s role to follow civilian directives. But be that as it may, the US has long accused Pakistan of harbouring the HN; control of which passed some years ago to the heir apparent: Sirajuddin.

Yet in reality the passing of Jalaluddin Haqqani is more or less irrelevant. Unless, of course, to remind Washington of the folly of its own ways for which Pakistan is still paying the price. Namely, the arming of certain groups for strategic gain against a common enemy with no consideration of what is to be done once the latter is defeated. Thus the Haqqanis went from prized if not entirely trusted American ally — the so-called ‘moderate socialists’ strongly contrasted with the Taliban’s fundamentalist worldview — before being denounced as terrorists most foul. Indeed, Haqqani is said to have approached the US back in 2002 with a view to once more switching sides in its favour. And while that deal was never entertained — it would take the State Department another 10 years before it designated his organisation global terrorist status.

To be sure, there is no denying the sheer viciousness of assaults carried out by the HN. This also a concern for this country given the group’s close ties to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is waging a brutal war against Islamabad. Thus this is not the time for recriminations. Yet it would be amiss to continue the charade that positions Pakistan as the lone scapegoat for all the region’s ills.  *

Published in Daily Times, September 5th 2018.