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The looming Haqqani Network threat to India

May 08, 2012 21:33 IST

The Haqqani terror Network is likely to step in as a 'service provider' to groups re-launching terrorist activities in Kashmir, warns Wilson John.

The Haqqani Network, operating out of Pakistan's North Waziristan, is today a serious threat to the United States in Afghanistan and is likely to expand its terrorist activities to include India once a significant number of US troops withdraw from active combat duty in Afghanistan by 2014.

These concerns are triggered by the Haqqani Network's close alliance with the Taliban, Al Qaeda and, most critical of all, the Pakistan army and its intelligence wing, the Inter Services Intelligence directorate. The Haqqani Network today acts as a proxy for the ISI in Afghanistan, subverting global efforts at peace and reconciliation.

The ISI, in the recent past, has used the Haqqani Network to carry out terrorist attacks on select targets in Afghanistan -- US assets and Indian embassy and construction companies -- to reinforce its primacy in the negotiations with the Taliban and other terrorist groups.

For India, the Haqqani Network, a tribal clan-led criminal enterprise which has considerable influence in at least four provinces in Afghanistan, poses both direct as well as indirect threats. The indirect threats are of immediate concern.

These threats emerge from the group's close relationship with the ISI, the Taliban and Al Qaeda, all three entities with a strong anti-India orientation.

Although the Taliban and Al Qaeda have not been focussing on targeting India in the recent past, it has been more out of the groups' preoccupation with Afghanistan and fighting the foreign security forces led by the US.

Both the Taliban and Al Qaeda have declared their intention to target India, particularly in Kashmir, an objective which is shared by other terrorist groups operating out of Pakistan.

The Taliban's role in the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 in December 1999 to free terrorists Masood Azhar and Syed Omar Sheikh, two key members of Harkat-ul Ansar, a major Afghan jihad group, clearly indicated the group's intentions.

Al Qaeda, on its part, had outsourced the terrorist attacks on India to proxy groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Tayiba.

Both the hijacking and the outsourcing could not have taken place without the ISI's direct hand.

As for the Haqqani Network, termed a strategic asset by the Pakistan army, targeting India and its interests is the price it pays for shelter and support in Pakistan.

What has made the Haqqani Network threat to India more imperative is Farman Shinwari's appointment as Al Qaeda chief in Pakistan. Shinwari is a native of the Khyber Agency and has been involved with trans-national terrorist activities. He has been associated with the Harkat-ul Mujahideen, a terrorist group active during the Afghan jihad.

After the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, terrorists like Shinwari were diverted to target Kashmir.

The ISI used the Haqqani Network to train several hundred terrorist cadres to target Kashmir. Camps were set up in Zhawara where students from the Haqqani-run Manba al-Ulum madrassa in North Waziristan were trained to carry out terror attacks in Kashmir.

Many of these cadres formed the core of Harkat-ul Ansar, one of whom was Farman Shinwari, Al Qaeda's new chief in Pakistan.

During the early 1990s, Shinwari was quite active in recruiting and training cadres for terrorist attacks in Kashmir. His brothers Rehmat Nabi, Matiullah and Raziullah have been involved in terrorist activities in Kashmir under the Harkat-ul Ansar umbrella. They subsequently joined Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, an umbrella of terrorist groups who work for the Taliban, Al Qaeda as well as the Haqqani Network, but maintain both operational and strategic autonomy.

The TTP has targeted the Pakistan army, ISI personnel and its assets since 2007.

Farman Shinwari's association with Harkat-ul Ansar indicates his proximity to the Taliban and Jaish-e-Mohammad, a terrorist group created by the ISI after the IC-814 hijacking to target Kashmir.

With the Haqqanis and Shinwari sharing alliances with the Taliban and other anti-India terrorist groups, besides the ISI, the possibility of these forces joining hands to renew terrorism in Kashmir remain high.

Till recently, the ISI's main instrument of terror against India was the Lashkar-e-Tayiba. Since Lashkar has come under severe global scrutiny after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, the ISI is likely to bring in groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad to activate the so-called jihad in Kashmir.

The Haqqani Network, with vast training and material resources at its disposal, is likely to step in as a 'service provider' to the groups re-launching terrorist activities in Kashmir.

This 'confluence' of anti-India terror will coincide with the US drawdown as well as the political transitions in most of the South Asian countries, including India.

One of the consequences of the Taliban's re-emergence in Kabul in 2014 would be the creation of new coalitions of terror, more diffused, but with extended reach and lethality.

The leader of the Haqqani clan, Jalaluddin, a minister in the previous Taliban government, is more than likely to extract his pound of flesh if the Taliban were even to be accommodated in the new political dispensation in Kabul.

This development will not only seriously undermine India's interests in Afghanistan, but is more than likely to create new set of terrorist threats in the near future.

Wilson John is vice- president and senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi

Wilson John