Taliban releases photo of Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani for the first time

The Taliban government of Afghanistan for the first time published a photo of his interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who also happens to be a UN-designated terrorist. The photo tweeted by Zabihulla Mujahid, spokesperson for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, is the first image of the elusive leader in decades where his face is clearly visible.

The photo was tweeted on Saturday with the message: “The Minister of Interior of the Islamic Emirate, Khalifa Sahib Sirajuddin Haqqani Hafizullah inaugurated the graduation ceremony of the National Police”.

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Even the United States, which had hunted Haqqani for more than a decade and a half, only has a side profile of the wanted terrorist with his face half-covered vertically in a shawl. India, which has accused him of orchestrating several attacks on its assets in Afghanistan, including its embassy, ​​also has no frontal images of his face.

Interestingly, even after Haqqani entered government in September 2021, the Taliban made every effort to keep him away from any publicity material they published. In a series of photos released following a Taliban meeting in October last year at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Haqqani’s face was either hidden by bouquets or deliberately blurred.

Sources within the security establishment said the Taliban’s shift in stance on exposing Haqqani to the public could be part of its bid to seek legitimacy for him.

The appointment of Sirajuddin Haqqani as Afghan interior minister was seen as a snub to Pakistan.

“Now that the government is a few months old and the world has started to engage with it despite not officially acknowledging it, the Taliban could be testing the waters with this one on Haqqani. Also, as they seek relief across the globe, they want to come forward and signal that the world can openly engage with them. It may also be a signal that they want to step out of the shadow of their managers in Pakistan,” said a former research and analysis wing official who has watched Afghanistan closely.

Haqqani’s appointment as Afghanistan’s interior minister was seen as Pakistan thumbing its nose at the world. Not only had Pakistan succeeded in placing its longstanding strategic assets in the forefront of the Taliban governmenthe had also practically had the UN-designated terrorist, whom he had sheltered for decades, named No. 2.

The Taliban announced their cabinet on September 7, 2021, three days after the head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, arrived in Kabul to decide on the formation of the government.

The Doha-based Taliban group, which was negotiating with the international community and had established contacts with New Delhi, appears to have been sidelined.

From New Delhi’s perspective, the appointment of Sirajuddin Haqqani as Afghan interior minister was the most telling signal that the cabinet had been hand-picked by the ISI.

The son of former mujahideen fighter and CIA agent Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose death was announced in September 2018, Sirajuddin is also the head of the Haqqani network, a sprawling Islamist terrorist mafia closely linked to al-Qaeda, based in the Pakistani North Waziristan. He was responsible for the terrorist attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul in 2008 which killed 58 people, and attacks on Indians and Indian interests in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010. He has been designated a Global Terrorist by the UN in 2007 and the United States. announced a $10 million bounty on him.

According to the FBI, Sirajuddin is wanted in the United States for questioning in connection with the January 2008 attack on a hotel in Kabul that killed six people, including a US citizen. “He is suspected of having coordinated and participated in cross-border attacks against United States and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Haqqani was also allegedly involved in planning the assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2008.

As interior minister, Sirajuddin’s mandate includes not only law and order, but also the appointment of provincial governors, under the guise of “local governance”.

Sirajuddin is also the head of the Haqqani network.

According to a 2010 report on the Haqqani Network by the American think tank Institute for the Study of War, Sirajuddin’s mother is an Arab woman who was Jalaluddin’s second wife. They say she lives in a Gulf country.

Sirajuddin’s United Nations listing states that he “has participated in the financing, planning, facilitation, preparation or commission of any act or activity by, in conjunction with, under the name of, on behalf of or in support of the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Jaish-i-Mohammed”.

He describes him as “one of the most prominent, influential, charismatic and experienced leaders of the Haqqani network…and has been one of the main operational commanders of the network since 2004. After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Sirajuddin Haqqani has took control of the Haqqani network and has since led the group to the forefront of insurgent activity in Afghanistan”.

According to the list, he derived much of his power and authority from his father, Jalaluddin Haqqani – who was also on the list and described as “an intermediary between al-Qaeda and the Taliban on both sides of the border between ‘Afghanistan and Pakistan’. .

Sirajuddin was involved in the suicide bombing of a police bus in Kabul on June 18, 2007, which killed 35 policemen.

Betty K. Park