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Haqqani Leader Lived, Died In The Open In Pakistan

Jalaluddin Haqqani (right), the Taliban's minister for tribal affairs, points to a map of Afghanistan as son Nasiruddin, who was killed in Islamabad earlier this month, looks on during a 2001 visit to Islamabad.
Jalaluddin Haqqani (right), the Taliban's minister for tribal affairs, points to a map of Afghanistan as son Nasiruddin, who was killed in Islamabad earlier this month, looks on during a 2001 visit to Islamabad.
Haven't we been here before? The assassination of a high-profile militant living large under the noses of the authorities has rekindled suspicions that Pakistan shelters known terrorists.

The November 10 killing of Nasiruddin Haqqani, considered to be the financier of the Haqqani network, drew obvious comparisons to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's death on Pakistani soil in 2011.

Both were considered masterminds of their terrorist organizations, both were wanted by the United States, and both were living in large homes among the local population.

But even compared to bin Laden, who hid in a safe house within sight of a prestigious military academy in Abbottabad, Haqqani's case stands out. He appears to have been living luxuriously in Islamabad, with several homes there, and often frequented the capital's markets and restaurants.

Retired Pakistani Army Brigadier General Mehmood Shah says the circumstances of Nasiruddin Haqqani's death -- he was shot on the street as he bought bread at a bakery -- are deeply troubling for Pakistan.

"The big question now is what was he doing in Islamabad?" Shah says. "We were assuming that the Haqqani network only operated in [the remote tribal region of] North Waziristan. And even there they were thought to be based close to the border with Afghanistan."

The Haqqani network, led by Nasiruddin's aging father, Jalaluddin Haqqani, and managed by his younger brother Sirajuddin Haqqani, was widely believed to operate out of northwest Pakistan and be active only in southeastern Afghanistan.

Pakistan 'Appears Guilty'

For a leading member of the group to have been living in the capital and reportedly using it as a launching pad for fund-raising trips to Arab Gulf states came as a big surprise even to close observers.

Nasiruddin Haqqani's "presence in Islamabad was deeply humiliating for Pakistan," Shah says. "This will be another reason to malign Pakistan, but Pakistan appears guilty in this whole affair."

Family patriarch Jalaluddin Haqqani and his network were once on the side of United States and Pakistan, fighting as proxies in the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

After emerging as a leading guerrilla commander in Afghanistan, Jalaluddin Haqqani sided with the Taliban in the 1990s. After the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, the Haqqani network evolved into the most lethal Taliban faction.

Afghan journalist Sami Yousafzai says Nasiruddin Haqqani was considered a guiding spirit behind the organization because he raised funds, provided strategic guidance, mediated disputes, and networked widely.

In 2010, Washington designated Nasiruddin Haqqani a "global terrorist" and, later that year, he is believed to have been briefly detained in northwestern Pakistan.

Free To Roam?

Yousafzai says Nasiruddin Haqqani's presence in Islamabad showcases the freedom with which Afghan insurgent groups such as the Haqqani network operate in Pakistan. But he also notes that his death shows their safety is not assured.

"This killing shows that people who are being sought by the United States and Western intelligence services are overconfident about their safety in Pakistan," Yousafzai says. "They probably think that those who declared them terrorists -- and have even announced bounties for their killing or capture -- cannot do anything against them inside Pakistan."

Islamabad has been tight-lipped about Nasiruddin Haqqani's assassination. But earlier this month, Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar told lawmakers that his country maintains cordial relations with the Afghan Taliban.

"All the warring factions inside Afghanistan have positive relations with the Pakistani Army and the government of Pakistan," Nisar said. "We have good relations with the Afghan Taliban. The state of our relations with the Afghan Taliban is improving."

'Arm' Of Pakistani Intelligence

In September 2011, a former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, described the Haqqani network as "a veritable arm" of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The Pakistani government has repeatedly denied such accusations, but the network's lasting war-hero status and Nasiruddin Haqqani's ability to evade capture have rekindled suspicions.

Journalist Yousafzai suggests that Islamabad has never gone after Afghan insurgents because it does not want to risk angering their hardline supporters in Pakistan. And, he says, there is a general view that there is no compelling reason to do so.

"The thinking now inside Pakistan is that if the Americans can negotiate with the Taliban and can even establish an office in Qatar to facilitate talks with them," Yousafzai says, "then it is not necessary to move decisively against the Afghan Taliban."
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.