Jalaluddin Haqqani, a onetime CIA asset who went on to found a brutal militant group that is now a top US target in South Asia, has died after a long illness, the Afghan Taliban announced yesterday. Jalaluddin, whose eponymous Haqqani network is known for its heavy use of suicide bombers against Afghan civilians, security forces, and US-led NATO troops, was a key figure in entrenching jihad in the conflict-ridden region over the past 40 years.
His group is at the heart of regional tensions, with Washington and Kabul long suspecting the Haqqanis of having links to Pakistan’s shadowy military establishment. Jalaluddin, believed to have been born in Afghanistan before migrating to Pakistan’s tribal areas, first came to prominence as an Afghan mujahideen commander fighting the Soviet occupation in the 1980s with the help of the United States and Pakistan.
Known for his organisation, courage and entrepreneurial skills, Jalaluddin was nicknamed “kabari”, Pashto for scrap metal dealer, for reselling parts of tanks that had been destroyed on the battlefield. He became a CIA asset and received a personal visit from US congressman Charlie Wilson, who helped secure arms for the mujahideen.
Over the following decades, the media-friendly Jalaluddin used his Arabic language skills to foster close ties with Arab jihadists, including Osama bin Laden, who flocked to the region during the war. He became a minister in the Taliban regime which took power in Afghanistan in 1996 -- one of the only major mujahideen leaders to join the group -- and was close to its late founder Mullah Omar.
But after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 toppled the regime, he pulled back from the public eye, making only a handful of appearances in later years as the fearsome reputation of the Haqqani network began to grow.