Apr 4, 2008
Taliban welcome back an old friendBy Syed Saleem Shahzad KARACHI - Like a voice from the grave, legendary Afghan mujahideen leader Jalaluddin Haqqani has emerged from years of silence to boldly launch the Taliban-led spring offensive in Afghanistan, at the same time burying any doubts of a split between his coalition of resistance groups and Mullah Omar's Taliban. In a video message released last week and which is only now coming into wider circulation, Haqqani, speaking in his trademark low-pitched voice and with his hair dyed red with henna, called on the people of Afghanistan "to stand up against the US-led forces in Afghanistan and drive them out". The release of the message by Haqqani, who has a bounty on his head as one of the US's most-wanted men, coincides with an important North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) meeting in Bucharest, Romania, this weekend at which the divided alliance will try to hammer out a more coherent strategy in the war in Afghanistan which many analysts believe it is losing. As Haqqani speaks on the video, he is accompanied by a background song which pledges his allegiance to Mullah Omar, laying to rest any doubts that he has set himself up as a rival to the mainstream Taliban. Along with his son Sirajuddin, Jalaluddin Haqqani has built up a well-organized group, known as the Haqqani Network, with roots in Pakistan's tribal areas, that, now firmly allied with Mullah Omar, will pose a dangerous challenge to the coalition forces in Afghanistan. Haqqani soundly dismissed any notion - as touted by senior NATO officials - that the Taliban were weakened and might forego their spring offensive. "All 37 allies [in NATO] will be humiliated and driven out of Afghanistan - jihad is compulsory and will continue until the end of time; we are without resources, but we have the support of God." Haqqani said the Taliban and their allies in Afghanistan had come up with new plans to fight against NATO, but these did not have any room for reconciliation. "We are geared for war," Haqqani stated. "[President George W] Bush and his allies have decided to kill us or arrest us - they consider us as weak and think of themselves as all powerful. They think we have no place left in the world to survive - they think we are destined either to die or to be captured ... they think they are wealthy nations, with their money and with half of the world behind them. "They think they can enslave poor Afghans - bomb us with their planes and gunship helicopters - they think they have everything and we are voiceless - the media are with them and they belittle our resistance. We kill 80 and they report two or one. I promise the Afghan nation that soon we will be victorious," said Haqqani. The long speech by the Pashtun leader, who made his name fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and remains the most-respected tribal figure in southeastern Afghanistan, is the most sophisticated yet of the Taliban's presentations to Pashtun people. Copies of Haqqani's speech have spread all over eastern Afghanistan and are available in various formats, including on cassette tape and through cell phone downloads. After being silent for so long, and having been reported dead on numerous occasions, the impact of people listening to Haqqani is immense and will undoubtedly work as a galvanizing force among Pashtuns. This especially as NATO has in recent months worked hard to portray the Taliban as a spent force consisting of a bunch of naive young lads with no credible leader left. "They projected the rumor that Jalaluddin Haqqani had died in Dubai [in the United Arab Emirates]. I am neither a shopkeeper nor a trader that I would travel to Dubai. Neither am I a politician who roams all around the world ... the Americans thought that with their developed technology they could plant the news of my death in the media. But now the media are realizing their lies to demoralize the mujahideen," Haqqani said. A graphic part of Haqqani's video shows a suicide operation carried out by a Turk-German named Cuneyt Ciftci, also known as Saad Abu Furkan. He is seen in the video blowing himself up in a delivery truck near a US base in the Sabari district of Khost province in Afghanistan on March 3. According to Western press reports, two soldiers with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and two Afghan workers were killed and six others wounded. But the video claims the killing of 63 people. The Taliban's new battle The inclusion in the video of this suicide attack - one of dozens that has taken place in the country in recent years - is important as it shows an unprecedented level of planning and organization not normally associated with the Taliban. Footage shows a professionally drawn map, like an architect's, of a compound of the Sabari district headquarters. There is detail of the boundary walls, the protective inner walls, entry points, rooms, backyard and front portions of the newly built structure. Clearly the Taliban had contacts among the laborers or contractors. There are pictures of Taliban guerrillas sitting around the map discussing their plan to launch the suicide bomber in an explosive-laden vehicle. This is a far cry from usual grainy Afghan videos of ambushes on military convoys in the mountains. Haqqani's video is reminiscent of those made by the Iraqi resistance in 2004-05, when operations were meticulously planned by former officers of Saddam Hussein's army and executed with precision. In the many years since being ousted in 2001, the Taliban have had numerous ups and downs, from the successful spring offensive of 2006 to the failed mass uprising of 2007. Now, the Taliban have adopted a policy of preserving their strength by only hitting specific targets, rather than waste their resources in multiple direct confrontations with NATO forces. The Taliban have also opened up a new front based in Khyber Agency in Pakistan just across the border from Afghanistan's Nangarhar province, as NATO has beefed up its presence in the traditional Taliban strongholds of Paktia, Paktika, Khost and Kunar provinces. Last week, NATO announced the opening of an intelligence center near the Torkham border post, at the crossroad of Khyber Agency and Nangarhar province. But it was not able to thwart the biggest-ever guerrilla operation against a US base in the province a few days later. More than 200 Taliban participated in an overnight hit-and-run operation. Taliban sources claimed the killing of 70 US soldiers, but there was no confirmation of that figure from NATO or any other independent source. According to the video, the Taliban will use as much foreign expertise as possible, as well as tapping into tribal elders and their supporters. This means that mainstream Taliban commanders like Mullah Beradar from southwestern Afghanistan and commanders who are allied with the Taliban but who keep their own identities, like Anwarul Haq Mujahahid from Nangarhar and Uzbek and Arab commanders, will join hands for a coherent overall strategy. This of course includes Haqqani and his considerable following. A relatively new string in the Taliban's bow is the reliance on thousands of Pakistani and other jihadis put out of "work" since the struggle in Kashmir de-escalated. They are well trained, and as they did in Indian-administered Kashmir and other parts of India, they can be expected to target key infrastructure and high-profile targets, such as government buildings. This year's suicide attack by the Haqqani Network on the Serina Hotel in Kabul, in which several people, including foreigners, were killed, and the attack in Khost on March 3 shown in the video, indicate one key direction in which the Taliban-led insurgency is headed.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org