Haqqani Arrest – Big Catch…and Release?

by Florian Flade

Nasiruddin Haqqani on the left, his father Jalaluddin on the right (2001)

His father is a living legend, a celebrated hero of the Afghan War against the Soviets. His mother is a noble Arab woman from the United Arab Emirates. He himself is one of the most wanted Taliban commanders in the AfPak region – Nasiruddin Haqqani.

Pakistani intelligence sources yesterday confirmed Nasiruddin Haqqani, son of powerful Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, was arrested by Pakistani agents this week when he was on his way from the city of Peshawar into the heart of Pakistan´s militant safe-haven North Waziristan. The Pakistanis stopped the car carrying five Taliban, one of them being Nasiruddin Haqqani. He and his companions had just returned from a pilgrimage and fundraising tour in Saudi-Arabia and wanted to travel to the town of Miramshah, where the alleged headquarter of the Haqqani-Network is stationed. Among those arrested was another wanted Haqqani commander, Mullah Muhammad Jan.

Nasiruddin, one of the younger sons of Jalaluddin Haqqani, was born to Jalahuddin´s Arab wife which he married during the 1980s Afghan Jihad against the Russian Red Army. It is said Nasiruddin who is known as „Dr.Khan“ in Taliban circles, speaks perfect Arabic and because of his Arab blood was chosen as the main Haqqani official in charge of establishing connections to wealthy Gulf Arab donors supporting the Taliban insurgent campaign. He traveled to the Middle East frequently and is also suspected of being a key associate of al-Qaida in the Pakistani tribal areas of North Waziristan.

The arrest of the Haqqani offspring is seen as a serious blow to the Taliban group based in Pakistan but operating in Afghanistan. It comes at a time where the U.S. administration is increasingly putting pressure on the Pakistani government to consider a military offensive into North Waziristan to wipe out the terrorism center consisting of al-Qaida, Pakistani groups, the Taliban and Uzbek organizations. Pakistan´s military repeated their statement, a invasion of North Waziristan was not on their agenda – yet.

In fall of 2009 – after a US drone strike had killed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud – the Pakistani army went into South Waziristan, a former stronghold of several Taliban warlords, and occupied the region after driving out most of the Jihadi militants. The operation was a slow and painful experience and proofed to be rather ineffective as most of the terrorists did not stay to fight the Pakistani troops but fled into neighboring North Waziristan. Around Miramshah, Mir Ali and Datta Khel, the militant organizations have regrouped and continued plotting terror attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the West.

While al-Qaeda and other are planning deadly operations in Europe and the US, and foreign Jihadis are rushing to North Waziristan to receive military training, the US wants the Pakistanis to conduct a clear-and-hold operation to stop terror-activities from that region. Talking about the Pakistani military, General David Petraeus said at a university lecture in Paris in November: „They recognise the need for more operations in North Waziristan.“ Pakistan´s military chiefs explained that his troops unable to open a fresh front while they are still heavily committed to operations elsewhere in the country’s lawless border regions.

On December 20th, it was reported Core Commander Peshawar Lieutenant General Asif Yasin ruled out a major North Waziristan offensive and claimed a counter-terrorism operation was already underway in the area. While speaking with journalists, he said that the army is targeting terrorists already.

A few days ago The New York Times reported US military officials are pushing for a military expansion of US troops into Pakistan to fight terrorists in the tribal areas. The plan, as it was reported, included sending US Special Forces into the Waziristan area to kill or capture insurgent leaders.

In the light of all that political discussion and the US pushing Pakistan to do something about the Haqqanis and al-Qaida, could it be a simple coincidence wanted Taliban commander Nasiruddin Haqqani was arrested now? Rather it seems like the Pakistani government is trying to proof to Washington they are acting in the face of the North Waziristan insurgency. Due to their strong ties, local Taliban leaders and the ISI have in the past managed to create deals that avoided military action in the tribal region. Pakistan´s intelligence agency has a clear picture about the travel movements of the Haqqanis and could have arrested Nasiruddin long before his Hajj travel this year.

His arrest is a signal to Washington, trying to calm down the US call for a North Waziristan invasion. See, there is no need for US operations inside Pakistan, we will take care of the bad guys – that´s the message given by Nasiruddin´s capture. Question remains if the Haqqani son will stay in captivity or be made available to US interrogators. He is a valuable source and was in charge of financing of the Haqqani network, the most important Taliban group fighting NATO troops in eastern and northern Afghanistan.

A similiar arrest was carried out last February, when Pakistani security forces captured Mullah Baradar in Karachi. The CIA had provided information on the wanted Afghan Taliban commander to the ISI and pushed for his arrest. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar Akhund served as the military chief of the Afghan Taliban and was reported to be „No.2“ of the movement next to Mullah Muhammad Omar.

In October the Asia Times reported Baradar had been freed from Pakistani custody as the ISI wanted him to serve as a moderator in backchannel talks with the Taliban. „A senior Taliban leader, speaking to Asia Times Online on Thursday from the southern AfPak region, also confirmed that Baradar „had reached the safely of his people“. The implication is that he is back with Taliban leader Mullah Omar“, the Asia Times wrote.

So is Nasiruddin Haqqani´s arrest just another catch-and-release as part of Pakistan´s strategy to proof to the US that they are in control of what happens in North Waziristan? Is the arrest a show of progress in the fight against local terror groups or a serious effort to hurt the Taliban´s operational abilities?

Nasiruddin´s older half-brother Sirjuddin is still roaming free in North Waziristan and he is in charge of military operations in eastern Afghanistan. If they really wanted, Pakistan´s ISI would be able to locate him and take him out of the game. Instead they went for the less-important brother. Washington will not be satisfied and the military commanders will point to the Baradar-example pushing for more serious action in Waziristan.

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