Tuesday May 21, 2024

From battlefield to power table: Khalil Haqqani emerges as key player

Khalil is now playing a key role in forming a new Taliban government in Kabul after the collapse of Ashraf Ghani regime.

By Azaz Syed
August 24, 2021
Geo News correspondent Azaz Syed with Khalil-ur-Rahman Haqqani.
Geo News correspondent Azaz Syed with Khalil-ur-Rahman Haqqani. 

KABUL, Afghanistan: He has a $5 million bounty on his head and a triumphant smile on his face. The head money marked by the US Treasury Department for Khalil-ur-Rahman Haqqani has lost much of its significance in the fast-changing circumstances of Afghanistan. Khalil, a scion of the feared Haqqani Network, is not an ordinary man indeed, despite his medium frame of 5 ft 4 inches and a characteristic thick beard. He is the younger brother of the late Jalaluddin Haqqani and an uncle of Sirajuddin Haqqani, who was also declared a terrorist by the United States in 2008.

Khalil is now playing a key role in forming a new Taliban government in Kabul after the collapse of Ashraf Ghani regime. He is a known gun lover; when we met he was holding a black color American M4 Corbin rifle. It was his first interview with a foreign news media last week.

“You have entered Kabul holding this American gun victoriously as you have defeated the United States. Now what is your message for America?” I asked him. “Even from the start, neither we were turning into an enemy of America nor are we now. But the US violated our religion, country and culture, which forced us to stand against it,” Haqqani replied calmly. “We have got the American arms as a prize as they were being used against us. This all happened with the help of Allah,” Khalil said. He added that drone attacks were carried out in his country, bombs were thrown on them, but despite all that America lost the war. He said that they turned against America not because of personal reasons, but the basis of this was religion as the superpower had invaded their country.

I further asked: “When the Taliban entered Kabul, Ashraf Ghani took the plane and went into exile, and Amrullah Saleh and Hamdullah Mohib were critical of you. Now, what is your policy towards them?”

Haqqani replied: “Now we have no animosity against anyone, including Ashraf Ghani, Amrullah Saleh and Hamdullah Mohib. Whenever they want to come, they can come; they all are our brothers now. Whatever we had was based on religion as the superpower and Jews were here.”

Khalil, being the uncle of Sirajuddin Haqqani, is the elder of the entire family in terms of age, although the latter heads the family as per the family traditions. At the same time, it has been reported that he too had close ties with different militant outfits. In this background, I asked him about the concerns of China, Pakistan and Uzbekistan regarding the local and international militant organizations, including al-Qaeda, East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), etc. Khalil listened to the question and answered with carefully-selected words.

“We want peace among all the Muslim countries, my advice is peace. For the entire world and Muslims, my message is that all the countries give rights to all the people following different religions; have peace with them and should not do oppression,” he answered.

Asked again that Pakistan has reservations about a few militant groups, Haqqani replied that "Muslims in the world should have peace among them, so in this case I also advise the same." He said the US got defeated despite the fact that the NATO countries were with it; it only happened because the nation stood together.

Khalil is meeting key opponents to convince them to either join the Taliban or accept them. The first big success he made was when Hashmat Ghani, the brother of self-exiled Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, announced his support for the Taliban. Khalil went to see him at his place in the outskirts of Kabul. Both the families know each other already. I drew his attention towards the fact that the people in Kabul are scared and due to fear, they are not coming to offices.

“Islam is a religion of peace. Emirate-e-Islami would not take revenge from anyone and the fear is spread by the enemy. The reason for our animosity was the change of the system. Now the system has been changed again, people should not leave this country. Everyone should live here and contribute to the people of this country. We are Kabul, Tajik, Baloch, Hazara, Pashtun, all of us are brothers” he said.

Since Haqqani is busy in negotiations for the formation of the government, he is mindful of the security threat to his life. A 30-member Taliban team called Badri Brigade gives him protection. He moves in a bullet and bomb-proof Land Cruiser along with his security brigade. Asked if the government positions would be different in the proposed Emirates, he replied the Taliban would form an inclusive government and give positions on merit.