Pakistan-based Haqqani Network, blamed for the terror attack on Sikhs in Kabul in March last year, has discussed the formation of a new joint unit with al-Qaeda, according to the US treasury department.
In an assessment of its work to counter terror financing and money laundering, the treasury department also provided information of close links maintained by the Afghan Taliban with al-Qaeda, even after the signing of the agreement with the US in February last year.
The Haqqani Network, once famously described by former chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff Admiral Mike Mullen as a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, was blamed along with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) for last year’s attack on the Sikh place of worship in Kabul that killed almost 30 people.
“Senior Haqqani Network figures have discussed forming a new joint unit of armed fighters in cooperation with and funded by al-Qaeda,” the treasury department informed the Pentagon in a document dated January 4 but didn’t give further details.
The Haqqani Network has often been accused of targeting Indian interests in Afghanistan. Some reports have suggested the attack on the Sikhs in March last year was carried out after the terrorists were unable to target the Indian embassy in Kabul.
The document described the Haqqani Network as an “organisation primarily based in North Waziristan, Pakistan” that conducts “cross-border operations into eastern Afghanistan and Kabul”.
In May last year, Afghan security forces had arrested eight members of a network grouping the Haqqani Network and the Islamic State in Kabul for the attack on the Sikhs. The National Directorate of Security or the Afghan spy agency had said at the time that the group was also responsible for attacking a gathering of the Shia Hazara minority, and rocket attacks on President Ashraf Ghani’s swearing-in ceremony and on Bagram airbase.
Asked specifically about any changes in financial relationships between the Taliban and terrorist groups since February 29, 2020 – the date when the Taliban and the US signed a deal – the treasury department said that as “of May 2020, the Taliban and al-Qaeda maintained a strong relationship and continued to meet regularly”.
The treasury department also said that, during the past year, al-Qaeda was “gaining strength in Afghanistan while continuing to operate with the Taliban under the Taliban’s protection”.
The assessment assumes significance in light of the new US administration’s decision to review the deal with the Taliban to establish whether the Afghan group has cut its ties with al-Qaeda and other terror groups and is taking steps to reduce violence.
The treasury department concluded that al-Qaeda “capitalizes on its relationship with the Taliban through its network of mentors and advisers who are embedded with the Taliban, providing advice, guidance, and financial support”.
It further said that “elements of al-Qaeda, including affiliate al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), and terrorist groups targeting Pakistan, such as Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), continue to use the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region as a safe haven”.
AQIS, which has sought to focus on India and Jammu and Kashmir, “likely receives funding from al-Qaeda senior leadership”, the treasury department said.
The treasury department further concluded that the core of the Islamic State has used hawala networks to transfer funds from overseas, and that the Khorasan unit of Islamic State or ISIS-K, which is based in Afghanistan, has “cultivated relationships with particular hawaladars who store tens of thousands of dollars for the group”.