02/22/20 – Having read the op-ed by Sirajuddin Haqqani in the New York Times on Feb. 20, 2020, I found myself feeling uneasy. I am familiar with the Haqqani family as I enjoyed their protection and I was a guest in their house in Peshawar right after a prisoner swap with the Soviets that took place in Peshawar in the summer of 1988. I stumbled into it through Carlos Mavroleon who was working for the Haqqani family under the name of Kareemullah. Somewhere, I have a picture of one of Sirajuddin’s older brothers who was a toddler at the time. He was later killed in a US drone strike. Carlos, aka Kareemullah, was working for the family as part of a security unit that protected opium shipments as they approached the Pakistani border. He spoke Pashto so fluently, no one knew that he wasn’t an Afghan, except myself. I knew Carlos from his days in New York. While all of us were there to fight to liberate Afghanistan, none of us were angels. We had all made some kind of a Mephisto bargain to be there. Carllos’ deal was for redemption, mine was for real knowledge.
Kareemulah and I talked straight through the night catching up until just before sunrise and morning prayer. We were at the Haqqani compound in University Town, a district of Peshawar. After prayer, we sat and talked more. Both of us wondered if the Soviets were really going to pull out of Afghanistan after 10 years as Mr. Gobachev had stated. I asked many questions about various contingencies and the pointless negotiations. At that time, the Old Man, Jelaluldin Haqqani ran the family. They were part of the Hezbi i Islami organization under Younas Khalis which had broken away from Gul Buddin Heckmatyer. They were a serious fighting organization and operated with some independence from other groups. Because of the tight family, clan and tribal nature of the organization, they were, in many ways, a kind of mafia/political/militia hybrid. They were more independent from the ISI or the CIA because they made money from the early opium trade. They also made money from selling captured Soviet officers back to the Red Army. But they did not wear their independence as a badge the way Heckmatyer pretended to. They were well acquainted with the idea of telling players what they wanted to hear. So STATE carried them as a “moderate” faction. They were anything but…
What I learned, among other things, was that the Haqqanis had a firm position that was in no way negotiable. They would fight to the death any foreign army that entered Afghanistan. Calling them Islamic fanatics is a compliment by them. But they also lived by the Afghan codes of honor called “Pashtunwali”. It has different rules than we, in the West, claim to live by. They did not feel honor bound to keep any promises made to an enemy and war was to be a no quarter given or expected fight. If they took prisoners, it was for interrogation, as hostages, sources of revenue, or, as they would never admit, as sex toys. (That was and is NOT Islamic; but it happens all the time.) While they could be quite gentle with young family members, God help you in a fight with them. As a foreigner, I was very fortunate to be trusted by them. I knew that if I were in any way to act suspicious, they would unflinchingly dispatch me. Instead, they extended a very prideful Islamic hospitality which was a bit more formal than most similar situations I experienced. Hospitality seemed more of an obligation and they were very concerned that I saw them as family people as well as fighters. It was kind of a performance of Haqqani style public diplomacy theater and it left me feeling a little awkward. They showed me the room in which the Soviet prisoner had been kept. They walls were covered with a demented charcoal mural he had left behind. I was only allowed a glimpse of it and they refused to let me take a picture. Too bad, it was a tortured master piece. Why they showed it to me in the first place was a subject of its own. The Haqqanis I met were not people of subtlety or nuance. While they were interested in attaining power, one didn’t expect them to turn out any statesmen. But they knew how to play…
So when I read this curious op-ed by this youngest Haqqani, it didn’t pass the smell test. It didn’t read like a fighting Haqqani actually wrote it. Rural Pashtun people neither talk nor write, or think like this. It just does not come across as real. Given that jezail.org is skeptical about the peace deal that is supposed to be coming in a few days, this is ringing some alarms. The language is not genuine. For example, no Pashtun uses terms like “front-loads this process”. “Keeping the international community interested and positively engaged during the transition to peace” is a term more likely to come from Zalmay Khalilzad than from somebody who carries a Kalashnikov for a living. “Crucial to stabilizing and developing Afghanistan”? “Mutual respect”? The entire document from roughly the third paragraph, reads as if were written by a different people. Whole paragraphs appear to be stripped in.
What jezail.org is concerned about is that Zalmay Khalilzad may be purchasing some statements from Afghans who cannot be bought but can be rented. This is an old pattern of US diplomacy in the region and is where truckloads of American money has disappeared. This is happening at the same time as other pieces are in motion. The Afghan election has been a giant let down again with the results taking five months closer to the US presidential election to be announced. After 2 previous rigged elections, jezail.org was not alone in knowing the outcome from before the election. But they waited. Other pieces are in motion too.
Pakistani “cooperation” in the WOT has long been a game played by Pakistan jailing it’s terrorists at key moments to get US concessions or cool down heated periods between the US and Pakistan. Predictably, they just threw Hafiz Saeed in jail again for terror financing. He was a key player in the Mumbai attack. He’s been in jail before and he’s used to it. They might usefully put a revolving door on his cell. We’ve been down this road so many times before. They gave up so many “terrorists” who keep turning out to be living in Pakistan for some reason. Omar, Bin Laden, KSM and on and on.
A lot of prestige is going into this “peace agreement”. Trump is lining up behind it. His cabinet is lined up with it. His lead negotiator is also the biggest loser in South Asian diplomacy, Zalmay Khalilzad. He is from the Robin Raphel school of diplomacy. Spend loads of many, make claims of false gains and deny spectacular failures. It’s like checking boxes on a form for these people. They see “gains” and “successes” in the last 20 years of American wallowing in Afghanistan. “Look what we’re doing for women!” “Look what we’re doing for democracy!” “Look what we’re doing to fight terror!” They get this bunk published in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. Zalmay has been at it for over 3 decades.
When you get good at failure, you probably can get your timing pretty tight. What appears to be in play is a “peace talk” that no party to it takes seriously. The Taliban are not going to give any concessions on the sticking points of keeping US CT (counter terror) units in Afghanistan or enshrining any form of women’s rights that we would recognize. On women’s rights they agree to do whatever they can as long as it conforms to their interpretation of Islam. In the real world, that is called a loop hole. It’s about ten miles wide. On keeping CT forces in Afghanistan, it’s already being leaked that there are secret “annexes” in the agreement that will allow for this. Really? Why were they leaked?
This is being set up to fail. It’s an old game. STATE has been doing this in South asia forever. If jezail.org reads this right, it will fail catastrophically just before the election. There will be a bombing in Kabul or something dramatic.
Jezail.org is not alone in our misgivings about this “process” in Doha. So we include this video from journalist Shekhar Gupta who is also skeptical about a series of event he sees as being linked. It’s a slightly different from what we see but it rhymes.
Regards to All,
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.