Rajat Sharma

How most wanted terror masterminds have now become Taliban ministers

rajat-sir Heavy fighting is presently going on between Taliban and the resistance fighters led by Amrullah Saleh and Ahmed Masoud in Afghanistan’s Panjshir valley, with conflicting reports coming in. Taliban had invited Masood and Saleh for talks, but the Northern Alliance fighters have refused to back out. Taliban circulated a false claim that Masoud has agreed to join hands, but Masoud himself later denied and said he stood firm with Amrullah Saleh and would defend Panjshir valley till his last breath.

Another development relates to the release of 2,300 terrorists linked to Pakistani terror outfits who were languishing in the jails of Afghanistan. There are reports that Taliban has handed over US made weapons to these freed terrorists, and most of them have now crossed over to Pakistan. This is a matter of concern for India and our security agencies are on alert. Security on the border and near the Line of Control has been beefed up.

There was a third development too. Hard core terror masterminds belonging to Taliban, on whose heads the US had announced handsome rewards, have now become ministers or are occupying important positions in Afghanistan. Some of these terror masterminds are playing an important role in posting their supporters in key positions. Prominent among them is Khalilur Rahman Haqqani, uncle of Haqqani network chief Sirajuddin Haqqani.

Khalilur Rahman Haqqani is part of the 12-member council set up by Taliban to oversee governance. The council consists of another terror outfit chief Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, son of Late Mullah Omar Mullah Yaqoob, Abdul Ghani Baradar, former president Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah. This council will work under the Emir of Taliban Maulana Haibatullah Akhundzada.

Khalilur Rahman Haqqani is one of the top commanders of Peshawar-based Haqqani network, which had sent nearly 6,000 fighters to help the Taliban to recapture Afghanistan. Khalilur Rahman Haqqani has been appointed security chief of capital Kabul by the Taliban. One of the most dreaded terrorists in the world, he was put on the Most Wanted list by the US in 2011 with a five millions US dollars (Rs 37 crore) on his head.

One can hardly imagine this same terror mastermind now standing metres away from US forces posted inside Kabul international airport. Khalilur Rahman Haqqani is overseeing Taliban security arrangements outside the airport. But the US is helpless. According to the peace deal between the US and Taliban, neither side can attack the other, at least till August 31, when the evacuation process is supposed to end. Haqqani is now openly giving interviews to news channels claiming that the Taliban has changed and that Ahmed Masoud wants to join hands with the Taliban.

Khalilur Haqqani used to collect funds for Taliban, and his activities are narrated in detail on the US Treasury department website. He had connections with Al Qaeda and was part of their terror operations. He was declared most wanted terrorist by the US on February 9, 2011, with a 5 million US dollar reward on his head. For 20 years, Haqqani was given shelter by Pakistan’s ISI, to keep him safe from US attacks, but now he has shifted his base from Peshawar and North Waziristan to Kabul. The terrorist who was hiding to save his life is now today declaring amnesty for his opponents.

There is another member of Haqqani family – Anas Haqqani, brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani. Anas Haqqani is now advising the National Reconciliation Council in Afghanistan. He used to operate in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area, was arrested in 2014 by Afghan forces, was given death sentence in 2016, but in 2019, he was released along with two Taliban commanders in exchange for the release of two professors of American University of Afghanistan who were taken hostage. After release, Anas Haqqani went to Doha to work for the political bureau of Taliban.

The third member of Haqqani family, Sirajuddin Haqqani, chief of the outfit, is also now in Kabul. Sirajuddin Haqqani is the mastermind behind 2008 bomb attack at a five-star hotel in Kabul, 2012 attack on a US army base in Khost, and the 2017 suicide attack outside the German embassy in Kabul. The UN and the US had declared Sirajuddin Haqqani as a global terrorist. The US had declared 10 million dollars (Rs 74 crore) on his head. And now, Sirajuddin Haqqani is the second most powerful leader in Taliban after Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

After Taliban recaptured Kabul, ISI Lt. Gen. Faiz Ahmed personally met Mullah Baradar. Both of them offered namaaz together. In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Wednesday night, we showed images of the two together. For us in India, ISI’s link with Taliban and Haqqani network may be news, but the common Pakistani know this for a fact for the last two decades. The man in the street in Pakistan openly says that the Pakistani generals will now be calling the shots during Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

Taliban has appointed several of its war veterans as minister. Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir is now the acting defence minister, Ibrahim Sadr is now the acting interior minister and Gul Agha Ishaqzai has been named finance minister.

Gul Agha was the head of Taliban’s financial commission and a childhood friend of Late Mullah Omar. He has been the target of UN sanctions for the last two decades. He used to collect funds for Taliban by imposing tax on cross-border traders in Balochistan. He provided funds for the suicide attacks in Kandahar. Along with him, Haji Mohammed Idris has been appointed governor of Afghanistan central bank. Haji Idris used to carry out extortions for Taliban.

Fortyeight-year-old Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir is a former Guantanamo detainee and a veteran battlefield commander of Taliban. Born in Helmand province, he belongs to the Alizai tribe and has carried out many suicidal attacks on NATO forces. He is considered an expert in car and truck bombing. He was caught in 2001 and sent to Guantanamo jail where he stayed for 12 years. He and Mohammed Nabi Omari were released from Guantanamo in exchange for two US soldiers.

The new acting interior minister Ibrahim Sadr hails from Kandahar. As a Taliban commander, he was close to Al Qaeda. According to US Defence Intelligence Agency document, Ibrahim Sadr shifted to Peshawar, Pakistan, after US occupied Afghanistan. He used to train Taliban youths in warfare. He was close to Late Mullah Omar and Late Mullah Akhtar Mansour. In 2014, he became the military chief of Taliban. According to a UNSC report, Ibrahim Sadr set up his own militia, but the Taliban leadership assuaged him by appointing him the acting interior minister.

Abdul Baqi Bari has been appointed Taliban education minister. A top money launderer for Taliban, Bari also used to channel funds to Al Qaeda. He personally dealt with Al Qaeda chief Osama bin laden. Abdul Baqi Bari is known as ‘Taliban bank’ in terrorist circles. He used Pakistani banks to secure money given by Taliban through extortions. He has been Taliban’s financial manager since 2001. A mastermind of terror attacks in Jalalabad, he was instrumental in closing the school doors for all Afghan girls above the age of 12 years.

Najibullah, known as “the butcher of Afghanistan”, has been appointed Taliban intelligence chief. He was commander of Taliban military intelligence during exile. He was involved in several terror attacks and assassinations of political rivals.

On Wednesday, India’s Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat said, for India, Taliban is the same as it was 20 years ago. “Only their partners have changed now. We are more concerned about terror activity in Afghanistan overflowing into India”, he said. Gen Rawat warned that any terror activity aimed against India from Afghanistan’s side will be dealt in the same manner that Indian forces deal with terrorism inside India. “Contingency planning for this has been ongoing”, he added.

Gen. Rawat is right. Taliban has neither changed, nor will it change, only its partners have changed. Taliban has a long partnership with Pakistan’s spy agency ISI. After withdrawal of US and NATO forces, terror activity from Afghanistan will surely be on the rise. Terrorists trained by Pakistan army are now in key positions inside Afghanistan, and they can create problems for India.

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