Anas Haqqani

Anas Haqqani

Foto:

Christian Werner / DER SPIEGEL

DER SPIEGEL Interview with Taliban Leader Anas Haqqani "You Ask Questions Like an Investigator"

In an interview, Afghan Taliban leader Anas Haqqani, 28, talks about his family’s militant network, the question of his involvement in assassinations – and why he is determined to fight for the rights of men and birds.
Interview Conducted By Susanne Koelbl

Reaching Anas Haqqani requires descending a flight of stairs into a basement room of a building located in Kabul's well-secured government district. The room Haqqani has chosen for the interview is furnished with light-colored velour armchairs and can be secured at any time with a steel gate.

Like his brother Sirajuddin, Anas Haqqani, the new Taliban interior minister and head of the Haqqani Network, is considered to be extremely wary of speaking to the press. It’s only through the mediation efforts of various advocates and diplomats that the 28-year-old agrees to a meeting with DER SPIEGEL.

The Haqqani Network, based in Miranshah, Pakistan, was considered the military center of the battle against Western troops in the country until the Taliban seized Kabul nearly a year ago. The Haqqani network is alleged to have planned some of the most serious attacks in Afghanistan from Pakistan, where suicide bombers are believed to have been prepared for their deadly missions. Haqqani is considered one of the group’s most important leaders.

In 2014, when he was 20, Haqqani was arrested abroad, tried in Kabul and sentenced to death. According information obtained by DER SPIEGEL, the only reason he wasn’t ultimately executed was because China intervened with the government in Kabul at the request of Pakistan. The Haqqanis are said to cooperate closely with Pakistan's ISI intelligence service – and Islamabad, in turn, is a staunch ally of Beijing. In the end, Anas Haqqani was freed in a prisoner exchange.

DER SPIEGEL 28/2022

The article you are reading originally appeared in German in issue 28/2022 (July 9th, 2022) of DER SPIEGEL.

SPIEGEL International

DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Haqqani, we are meeting here in the basement of a steel-gated room opposite an intelligence facility in Kabul. What is this place exactly?

Haqqani: This is the guest room where we receive our visitors. We took over this house from the occupiers. It is a remnant of the Americans.

DER SPIEGEL: How long have you been in Kabul?

Haqqani: I came the evening after the liberation of Kabul, on August 16. That was a great moment. Finally, there was peace, after 20 years of war. You know, I spent the first years of my life in Kabul, in the Wazir Akhbar Khan district. Then, when I was seven or eight years old, the bombing by the coalition forces began …

DER SPIEGEL: … that was in 2001, after al-Qaida attacked the World Trade Center and other targets in the United States. Before that, your father, the well-known mujahedeen leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, had invited al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan.

Haqqani: My father never invited Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan. They knew each other from the former war against the Soviet occupier. When the bombs of the Western coalition forces fell at that time, we had to leave. We fled to Miranshah in Waziristan …

DER SPIEGEL: … a city in Pakistan.

Haqqani: I spent most of my life there, as a migrant. The memory of my childhood years in Kabul, however, always remained a happy dream in my mind.

DER SPIEGEL: According to international security experts, the Haqqani network is considered the most violent arm of the Afghan Taliban. It is said that you were instrumental in raising the money for this organization and that you were privy to the assassination plans.

Haqqani: The so-called Haqqani network that the West keeps talking about never existed. This is pure propaganda by our enemies. And I was a harmless religious student in his young twenties. So, please distinguish between theoretical support for certain goals and practical action. Of course, like most Afghans, I wanted to liberate our country from occupation so that we could live independently and in dignity, peace and prosperity, in an independent state.

DER SPIEGEL: But now you are talking down your own family’s role in this war, and also your own.

Haqqani: The Haqqanis have nothing to do with many of the attacks that are blamed on my family. Yes, we were at war, and I belonged to one side. Both sides attacked each other. There were actions and reactions, but I myself never fought.

DER SPIEGEL: Your organization's training facilities for suicide bombers are located in Miranshah, your family's long-time home in exile in Pakistan. The strategic and military leadership for these facilities is under the umbrella of current Afghan interior minister, your brother, Sirajuddin Haqqani. It is hard to imagine that you spent almost all your life there but had no knowledge of what was being planned there.

Haqqani: You ask questions like an investigator. Are you planning on opening up a case against me? Don't worry, I'm only joking …

DER SPIEGEL: Before you returned to Afghanistan with the Taliban last year, as the victor, you spent a few years in Kabul involuntarily …

Haqqani: That's right. In 2014, I was arrested in Qatar on behalf of the then Kabul government and extradited to Afghanistan. This happened completely illegally. I was kept in solitary confinement for years in a tiny cell, first in an intelligence prison, then in Bagram. That was against all the laws and rules that prevailed in that country at that time as well.

DER SPIEGEL: You were sentenced to death by two courts for being jointly responsible for serious terrorist attacks. But the sentence was never carried out because of your family's good international relations.

Haqqani: I was really innocent, a young religious student in my eighth year. I was only on holiday in Qatar. There, I visited friends and relatives who had just been released from Guantanamo.

DER SPIEGEL: The Haqqani network is credited with countless assassinations, with countless innocent victims, and it is said that you knew about the assassination plans. Later, in 2017, the German Embassy in Kabul was one of the targets. More than a hundred people died.

Haqqani: These claims are totally baseless. All the accusations that were made against me at the time in these court proceedings are false.

DER SPIEGEL: After almost five years in captivity, you were exchanged for two lecturers at Kabul's American University in 2019. Kevin King of the United States and the Timothy Weeks of Australia had been kidnapped by the Haqqani Network just for this purpose. Both men were held in captivity for a long time. Are you sorry today about what was done to them?

Haqqani: I am not happy about what happened then. But I also had no knowledge of the plan to arrest the professors to exchange them for me. On the other hand, against all norms and rules, I was kept in solitary confinement for years. At some point, the leadership of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan found itself at such an extreme point where all avenues seemed to be blocked that it felt compelled to take special measures and steps to get its citizen – i.e., me – released.

DER SPIEGEL: Does one injustice justify another?

Haqqani: Please, we did not choose this war. It was forced upon us. I hope that we will never have to suffer these things we suffered during those years again.

DER SPIEGEL: Rahmatullah Nabil who was the intelligence chief at the time, claims that after your arrest in Kabul, he put you in a car and had you driven to the places where the assassins of the Haqqani network had carried out their deadliest attacks. Back at the headquarters of the Afghan intelligence service NDS, then deeply impressed and moved by the destruction you saw, you then are then alleged to have willingly signed a confession. Is that true?

Haqqani: Nothing of the sort is true. I have not confessed to any suicide attacks. Many attacks in the past two decades that have been blamed on my family were not perpetrated by us. Our family's name has often been used by graduates of the Haqqania madrassa (Eds: one of the old Koran schools) in Pakistan, without our knowledge. Anyone can use this name if they have previously studied at this religious school.

Foto: Christian Werner / DER SPIEGEL
Foto: Christian Werner / DER SPIEGEL

DER SPIEGEL: Two of your family members hold high offices in the current Taliban government. You, however, are still without an official post and yet are very influential. What, exactly, is your role in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan?

Haqqani: In our culture, trust is more important than a high office. I advise the Taliban in the ministries and help out wherever help is needed. I am also part of a commission that enforces general amnesty. We want to encourage all Afghans who left the country after liberation to return.

DER SPIEGEL: Why should these compatriots support your government? Women who once worked as doctors, police officers and judges are no longer allowed to practice their profession under your government. Countless security forces, activists and free spirits have fled out of fear of persecution, arrest and death. Meanwhile, in the north and east of the country, larger armed groups are fighting the Taliban. Should the armed opposition also return?

Haqqani: Yes, the amnesty applies to everyone, without exception, including the armed opposition. The head of the government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, Emir Akhundzada Haibatullah, has ordered this. We therefore call on all Afghans to return to their home country.

DER SPIEGEL: Again: Why should Afghans who are critical of the Taliban believe you? In one case we researched, a colonel had returned to his job at the Interior Ministry, and he suddenly got arrested one day. His body was returned to his family three days later without any explanation. The officer showed signs of torture. As you can imagine, there is a climate of fear among many former officers.

Haqqani: The leadership of the Emirate is very serious about the amnesty. Action will be taken against anyone who violates this general amnesty. They will be prosecuted and severely punished. The Emir has ordered the establishment of military courts. If you know of any examples of unjust persecution, please report them to us. There must be no revenge or reprisals against the representatives of the previous government.

Relatives of a former government worker killed by the Taliban: "There must be no revenge or reprisals."

Relatives of a former government worker killed by the Taliban: "There must be no revenge or reprisals."

Foto: Christian Werner / DER SPIEGEL

DER SPIEGEL: Many of the Shiite Hazara in Kabul hardly dare to leave their neighborhoods out of fear of harassment by the Taliban. Minorities believe they are no longer wanted. Those who can do so leave the country. Does that give you pause for thought?

Haqqani: Shia brothers have long been targeted by extreme elements throughout the Middle East and Afghanistan. The position of the Islamic Emirate against these elements is crystal clear: There is no truth to the allegations of the oppression of the Hazaras by the current government. Our government is very serious about any harassment or harm toward our Hazara brothers. Our government is not perfect. After so many years of war, there are problems between individuals. There are old scores that have been settled, family disputes. But the main reason why many people leave is hardship. The economic disaster in Afghanistan is again a consequence of the U.S. sanctions. We are not responsible for that, but rather the international community is, the Americans are. This is tantamount to the collective punishment of our people. Why doesn't the international community cooperate with us?

DER SPIEGEL: In Germany, people are deeply disturbed by the violation and restriction of human rights in Afghanistan, especially against girls and women. Is that necessary?

Haqqani: Afghans and Germans are linked by a historical relationship that goes back over a hundred years. During the Taliban negotiations in Doha, the Germans played a particularly positive role in helping us reach a peaceful solution, especially the German envoy Markus Potzel. Therefore, we expect the Germans to remain engaged and to renew our relationship with the usual bilateral strength. And we expect the Germans to take a bold step and to overlook small problems in order to improve relations.

Foto: Christian Werner / DER SPIEGEL

DER SPIEGEL: The Germans would like to invest their tax money in a place where women's rights are promoted, girls go to school and female citizens can also lead a self-determined life.

Haqqani: You seem to have forgotten that we ourselves were attacked by the U.S. under the pretext of human rights. Yet we are the true flag-bearers of human rights. Human rights are part of our faith. Our religion not only recognizes rights for humans but even animal rights. For example, you are not allowed to hunt birds for sporting ambition, but only if you also eat them. That's why we proclaimed amnesty, that's why we advocate non-violence!

DER SPIEGEL: But the realities are quite different. Women are arrested and humiliated when they demonstrate for their right to education and employment. Women and girls are now as good as banned from public life.

Haqqani: There are still problems, but we will solve all these problems.

DER SPIEGEL: Apparently, there are also very different views within the Taliban about what women should be allowed to do in the future. The Haqqanis are considered ultra-conservative in many respects, but the interior minister, your brother, has at least asked the female officials in his office to resume their duties.

Haqqani: Things take time. And please tell the Germans in your home country that they should not always worry about women's problems, but also about men's rights. Men suffer, too, and they make up more than half of the population, after all.

DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Haqqani, we thank you for this interview.

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