(Reuters) - The United States has presented evidence to Pakistan about the growing threat and reach of a militant faction, the Haqqani network, which Washington suspects has ties to Pakistani intelligence.
The information presented to Pakistan’s Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani detailed the role of the Haqqani network in a string of increasingly brazen bombings, including one last month targeting the main NATO air base at Bagram in Afghanistan.
A recent report by the London School of Economics stirred controversy in Pakistan by suggesting that supporting the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network was official Pakistan policy, with elements of its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency represented in the group’s inner circle, known as the Quetta Shura.
Here are some questions and answers about the group.
WHO ARE THE HAQQANIS?
The Haqqani network, headed by Jalaluddin Haqqani, is a militant group allied with the Taliban and believed to be closely linked to al Qaeda and the architect of several high-profile attacks in Afghanistan.
Effective leadership of the group has passed from the ailing Jalaluddin, who is in his 70s, to his eldest son, Sirajuddin.
The senior Haqqani rose to prominence during the 1980s, receiving weapons and funds from the CIA and Saudi Arabia to fight Soviet forces occupying Afghanistan.
Haqqani has also had long-standing links with Pakistan’s military ISI.
WHERE DO THEY OPERATE?
The Haqqanis are ethnic Pashtuns from the Zadran tribe in southeastern Afghanistan’s Paktia province. The group maintains a power base in the Pakistani Pashtun region of North Waziristan, across the border from Afghanistan’s Khost province, where a CIA base was attacked last December, killing seven agency operatives. 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.
Most recently, suicide bombers carrying rockets and grenades launched a brazen predawn attack on Bagram air base on May 19, killing an American contractor and wounding nine U.S. troops. About a dozen militants, many wearing suicide vests packed with explosives, were killed, the Pentagon said at the time.
A day earlier, a suicide bomber attacked a military convoy in Kabul, killing 12 Afghan civilians and six foreign troops.
But the Haqqani network has never been known to launch an attack on the Pakistani government or its security forces.
WHO ARE ITS ALLIES?
The Haqqani network is one of three main insurgent groups in Afghanistan, according to the U.S. military. The other two are the Quetta Shura Taliban, run by a leadership council headed by the reclusive Mullah Mohammed Omar, and the Hezb-i-Islami, run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, another veteran commander during the Soviet war. While coordinating efforts and sharing goals, the groups have different command structures and work under separate strategic plans, according to the U.S. military.
Sirajuddin Haqqani told Reuters last March his group was under the command of Taliban leader Omar. But U.S. officials believe the Haqqanis do not always accept Taliban authority and often act independently. He also said his group had links with al Qaeda but did not need al Qaeda support. He said his group did not need the help of foreign fighters as it had the support of the Afghan public. Security analysts point to the sophistication of Haqqani attacks as evidence of al Qaeda support.
WHAT LINKS WITH PAKISTAN?
The U.S. military says the Haqqani group draws most of its resources from Pakistan and Gulf Arab networks as well as its close ties to al Qaeda. In his telephone interview with Reuters last March, Sirajuddin Haqqani said his family had support and influence in Pakistan’s Pashtun belt after being based there while fighting the Soviets. Pakistan denies supporting the Haqqani network but it has never attacked it despite mounting U.S. calls.
Washington has long pressed Islamabad to crack down on the Haqqanis in the North Waziristan tribal zone bordering Afghanistan, but U.S. officials acknowledge it is a hard sell because of resistance within Pakistani intelligence.
On Wednesday, Pakistani media reported Pakistan was attempting to act as a “bridge” between the Haqqani network and Kabul in an effort to reach a political settlement.
There are strategic reasons for Pakistan’s hesitancy to attack the Haqqanis, a faction which some in Islamabad see as a strategic asset that will give them influence in any eventual settlement to the war in neighboring Afghanistan.
Writing by Chris Allbritton and Robert Birsel; Editing by Jeremy Laurence
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