The New York Times on Thursday published an op-ed written by Sirajuddin Haqqani, deputy leader of the Taliban and a globally designated terrorist with a $5 million FBI reward on his head.
Haqqani used the opportunity extended by the Times to recite Taliban propaganda and lay out the terrorist organization’s terms for peace in Afghanistan.
The FBI wants Haqqani for “questioning in connection with the January 2008 attack on a hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed six people, including an American citizen.” He is also wanted for participating in attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan and planning the attempted assassination of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2008.
Haqqani is not only deputy commander of the Taliban but also the operational commander of the Haqqani Network, the infamous criminal gang and internationally designated terrorist organization allied with the Taliban that is responsible for numerous terrorist attacks and kidnappings, including U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl. Sirajuddin Haqqani’s father Jalaluddin, founder of the network, died after a long illness several years ago.
The New York Times did not see fit to provide any of this background information to readers, identifying Sirajuddin Haqqani as merely “deputy leader of the Taliban.”
In his op-ed, Haqqani portrayed the Taliban as reasonable negotiators appalled by the loss of life in Afghanistan, excusing his group’s atrocities and remorseless attacks on civilians as justified acts of self-defense. He blamed the United States for undermining previous efforts at working out a peace deal.
“We did not choose our war with the foreign coalition led by the United States. We were forced to defend ourselves. The withdrawal of foreign forces has been our first and foremost demand. That we today stand at the threshold of a peace agreement with the United States is no small milestone,” Haqqani wrote.
The terrorist leader claimed that his side stuck with the current round of negotiations despite “the intensified bombing campaign against our villages by the United States and the flip-flopping and ever-moving goal posts of the American side.”
Haqqani claimed the Taliban are just looking for a round of free and fair elections, laughably pretending the murderous Islamist extremists would cheerfully accept losing and head back to their caves in peace if the Afghan people reject them:
We are aware of the concerns and questions in and outside Afghanistan about the kind of government we would have after the foreign troops withdraw. My response to such concerns is that it will depend on a consensus among Afghans. We should not let our worries get in the way of a process of genuine discussion and deliberation free for the first time from foreign domination and interference.
It is important that no one front-loads this process with predetermined outcomes and preconditions. We are committed to working with other parties in a consultative manner of genuine respect to agree on a new, inclusive political system in which the voice of every Afghan is reflected and where no Afghan feels excluded.
I am confident that, liberated from foreign domination and interference, we together will find a way to build an Islamic system in which all Afghans have equal rights, where the rights of women that are granted by Islam — from the right to education to the right to work — are protected, and where merit is the basis for equal opportunity.
Haqqani claimed concerns about the Taliban allowing Afghanistan to be used as a staging ground for international terrorist organizations are “politically motivated exaggerations by the warmongering players on all sides of the war” and pledged to “take all measures in partnership with other Afghans to make sure the new Afghanistan is a bastion of stability and that nobody feels threatened on our soil.”
“We are ready to work on the basis of mutual respect with our international partners on long-term peace-building and reconstruction. After the United States withdraws its troops, it can play a constructive role in the postwar development and reconstruction of Afghanistan,” he wrote.
The bottom line, laid out at the end of Haqqani’s op-ed, is that the United States is clearly interested in ending its nearly two-decade involvement in Afghanistan’s endless bloodshed, and the Taliban wants the U.S. to depart badly enough to make a few immediate practical concessions plus a few long-term rhetorical concessions that everyone will pretend to believe until American troops are gone:
We are about to sign an agreement with the United States and we are fully committed to carrying out its every single provision, in letter and spirit. Achieving the potential of the agreement, ensuring its success and earning lasting peace will depend on an equally scrupulous observance by the United States of each of its commitments. Only then can we have complete trust and lay the foundation for cooperation — or even a partnership — in the future.
My fellow Afghans will soon celebrate this historic agreement. Once it is entirely fulfilled, Afghans will see the departure of all foreign troops. As we arrive at this milestone, I believe it is not a distant dream that we will soon see the day when we will come together with all our Afghan brothers and sisters, start moving toward lasting peace and lay the foundation of a new Afghanistan.
We would then celebrate a new beginning that invites all our compatriots to return from their exile to our country — to our shared home where everybody would have the right to live with dignity, in peace.
The tragedy of America’s 18 years in Afghanistan has been a stubborn refusal to admit the Afghan government is incapable of standing on its own, no matter how much money is poured into it, how much training its troops are given, or how many of its battles American soldiers fight. There is not much left to do except hope the Afghans rise to the occasion and hold the Taliban to some of the promises it is making.
The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) argued in August that Sirajuddin Haqqani’s position in both terrorist groups made him the man the Trump administration needed to talk to, in order to hammer out a workable exit plan from Afghanistan.
Among other factors, CFR noted the Haqqani Network is a more potent international terror threat than the Taliban and more interested in “international jihad,” while the Taliban is more focused on regaining control of Afghanistan. Haqqani’s patronage is also vital to the survival of jihadi groups in Pakistan and expanding jihad franchises beyond the Middle East.
CFR quoted the assessment of Gen. John R. Allen, former commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, saying, “Although many Jihadi groups are sending their rank and file to places like Syria, few of these groups have the close relations with al Qaeda, media savvy, military capability, and technical expertise for suicide attacks like the Haqqani network.” For example, not many other jihad groups are media-savvy enough to get op-eds published in the New York Times without any mention of the outstanding FBI warrants for their arrest.