Q+A: Haqqani: From White House guest to staunch U.S. enemy

Wed Sep 14, 2011 2:38pm EDT

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(Reuters) - The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan said on Wednesday he believed the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network was behind an audacious assault by militants on Kabul's diplomatic and military enclave that lasted 20 hours.

Here are some questions and answers on the Haqqani network:

WHAT IS THE HAQQANI NETWORK?

Named after its leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani, it is one of three, and perhaps the most feared, of the Taliban-allied insurgent factions fighting U.S.-led NATO and Afghan troops in Afghanistan.

Jalaluddin gained notoriety as an anti-Soviet mujahideen commander in Afghanistan in the 1980s. His bravery and ability to organize mujahideen fighters won him funding and weapons from U.S. and Pakistani intelligence services and Saudi Arabia.

Former U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson, who fund-raised for the Afghan resistance, once called Jalaluddin "goodness personified." The warrior was held in such high esteem he visited the White House when Ronald Reagan was president.

After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Haqqani turned his ferocity and battle skills on Western forces. He earned a top spot on the CIA hit list, along with his old friend Osama bin Laden, whom he met during the anti-Soviet resistance.

Despite ill health, Jalaluddin, who is in his 70s, still inspires Haqqani foot soldiers believed to number up to 4,000, as well as other militant groups who revere him. His son, Siraj, seen as more ruthless, runs the daily affairs of the network.

WHERE DO THE HAQQANIS OPERATE?

The Haqqanis are ethnic Pashtuns from the Zadran tribe in southeastern Afghanistan's Paktia province. The group is active across much of southeastern Afghanistan and seeks to regain full control over its traditional bases in Khost, Paktia and Paktika provinces.

The Haqqanis are thought to have introduced suicide bombing to Afghanistan. They are believed to have been behind several high-profile attacks in Afghanistan, including a raid on Kabul's

top hotel, an assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai and a suicide attack on the Indian embassy.

The Haqqanis, who are based in Pakistan's North Waziristan, have been heavily targeted by missiles fired from U.S. drone aircraft.

WHY DOES PAKISTAN ALLOW THEM TO STAY IN NORTH WAZIRISTAN?

The Haqqanis have become one of the biggest sources of tension between allies Washington and Islamabad.

Pakistan has denied supporting the Haqqanis but has long resisted U.S. pressure to launch a full-scale offensive in Waziristan to crush the network for both domestic and foreign policy reasons.

As one of the most powerful insurgent groups in Afghanistan, the Haqqanis could act as a spoiler if Pakistan feels its interests are threatened in any settlement to the 10-year war. Islamabad also sees the Haqqanis as an insurance policy against the growing influence of rival India in Afghanistan. Caving in to Washington and attacking the Haqqanis could further destabilize Pakistan.

Pakistan's armed forces are already stretched fighting a nexus of dangerous homegrown militants -- both Taliban and other groups -- who have found shelter in Haqqani-controlled territory and use the group as an unofficial protective shield.

WOULD THE HAQQANIS FIT INTO ANY AFGHAN PEACE SETTLEMENT?

Pakistan hopes the United States will eventually welcome the participation of the Haqqanis in any Afghan peace talks. Kabul also understands the group can't be excluded.

Although the Haqqanis fall under the command of Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, U.S. officials believe they do not always accept Taliban authority and can act independently.

Jalaluddin has historically shown a penchant for changing sides, as the Americans know all too well, and he may be more flexible than the hardline Siraj.

Washington is scrambling to bring stability to Afghanistan at it gradually withdraws from the country. Striking a deal with the Haqqanis may be wise while the ailing Jalaluddin might still have a say.

(Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)

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