May 09, 2011
The Haqqani Network in Kurram
This paper details the expansion of the Haqqani Network in Pakistan’s tribal areas through peace accords signed between rival Sunni and Shia factions in Kurram Agency, Pakistan. The peace accords brought nearly four years of continuous fighting to an end. Despite the appearance of legitimacy, the peace accords were manipulated by the Afghanistan-focused Haqqani Network to serve its own ends. In exchange for brokering the peace between Sunnis and Shias, the Haqqanis allegedly received the authority to operate through Shia-controlled terrain in central and upper Kurram which will aid their ongoing insurgency against Afghan and coalition forces throughout eastern Afghanistan. The Haqqanis have also demonstrated their growing power and influence in the Pakistani tribal region in areas beyond their historical stronghold of neighboring North Waziristan Agency.
The Haqqani Network is Afghanistan’s most capable and sophisticated insurgent network. The Haqqanis enjoy sanctuary in the tribal areas in Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan. With the backing of elements within the Pakistan security establishment, the Haqqanis have used their sanctuary in the North Waziristan Agency of Pakistan to operate across the border in southeastern Afghanistan.
In response to increased coalition activity against the Haqqani Network in both Pakistan (via drones) and Afghanistan (via Special Operations Forces), the Haqqanis have increasingly sought new Pakistani sanctuary and additional infiltration routes in order to continue to battle coalition forces for control of southeastern Afghanistan. The Haqqani Network has increasingly turned their attention to Kurram Agency over the past several years as a potential sanctuary for the Haqqanis and affiliated terrorist organizations.
Kurram is a region of special strategic importance to Afghanistan-focused insurgents. It served as a base to the Afghan Mujahideen during the war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Kurram remains coveted terrain today as it facilitates convenient access to several Afghan provinces and is also the shortest route to Kabul from anywhere in Pakistan.
In September 2010, reports surfaced that suggested the Haqqani Network was involved in peace negotiations between Kurram’s Shia and Sunni tribes. The Haqqani Network’s earliest reported involvement in Kurram peace talks dates back to early 2009, though they have been involved in fighting the Shia in Upper Kurram to facilitate access to Afghanistan since at least 2008.
In exchange for brokering the peace between Sunnis and Shias, the Haqqanis allegedly received the authority to operate through Shia-controlled terrain in central and upper Kurram. It is likely that other national and transnational terrorists who operate with the Haqqanis, such as al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e Taiba, will join them in Kurram.
The Haqqanis will likely relocate critical elements of the network to Kurram Agency. This will have the dual effect of relieving pressure on the Network from U.S. drone strikes in North Waziristan and allow for greater freedom of movement for its fighters, facilitators, and leaders.
The expansion of the Haqqani Network and affiliated terrorist groups will have negative consequences for security and stability, not just in Kurram, but in eastern Afghanistan and elsewhere in Pakistan, as it will become more difficult to identify, track, and strike national and international terrorist groups.