A Look At The Haqqani Network Leaders Inside The Taliban's New Government
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Now that the Taliban has announced an interim government, we wanted to dig in on a familiar name - Haqqani. Sirajuddin Haqqani has been named acting interior minister. He is a leader of the Haqqani network. His dad was the founder of that network, which the FBI says is a terrorist network. He's got a $10 million bounty on his head, which means a man that the U.S. believes runs a terrorist organization is now in charge of Afghanistan's internal security. And Sirajuddin is not the only Haqqani in the new government.
I want to bring in journalist Ahmed Rashid, who has tracked Afghanistan and its leaders for many years. Hi there. Welcome back.
AHMED RASHID: Thank you.
KELLY: So what else should we know about Sirajuddin Haqqani?
RASHID: Well, he's the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani. His father was the founder of the Haqqanis. They have been very close to the Taliban, but they're also very close to al-Qaida. They gave shelter to Osama bin Laden for many years and his lieutenants. So Sirajuddin in particular - his wife is Arab. He speaks Arabic. He's very close to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states from which he has had funding in the past, although that has probably stopped now. And he runs a very tight terrorist group that is very well-versed in suicide attacks. And he's attacked the American facilities in Kabul, Afghan facilities, Indian facilities and killed hundreds and hundreds of people. And he creates a sense of terror if there's any word of his whereabouts. And...
KELLY: I mean, can I just stop and pause with the - I guess the irony, would be the right word, of the precise position he's been given. He presided over all these bombings, these huge truck bombings, as you note. many people died. He will now have authority over policing. He'll be in charge of law and order in Afghanistan.
RASHID: Yes, exactly. I mean, it's quite frightening, especially for vulnerable groups like women and the minority ethnic groups and those that he's targeted in the past. I think people are going to be very worried and very concerned. It's not just the West. I mean, the Afghans - the general Afghan population is really not going to be welcoming to Sirajuddin Haqqani.
KELLY: And he's not the only Haqqani in the government, as we mentioned. Tell me about the new minister for refugees. This is an uncle?
RASHID: Khalil Haqqani - this is an uncle. He has got this slot with the refugees, which, of course, is very important right now because the fact is that there are many Americans and Europeans still wanting to leave Afghanistan. And we have this incident ongoing in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan where planeloads of people wanting to escape are sitting in four or five planes not being able to take off because the Taliban are not letting them. So, you know, Khalil Haqqani, obviously, can give the go-ahead for these planes to take off or not.
KELLY: While we're at it, the leader of the acting government, the No. 1 - this is Mohammad Hassan Akhund - he is on the U.N. terror list. Is that right?
RASHID: Yes, he is. He was - started out with the founder of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, back in '93. And he was a military commander and later became foreign minister and was quite popular amongst the Taliban but was known for incredible, ruthless behavior. And he is also - a lot of the Taliban leadership is on some - one or the other terrorist lists in the world. And there are several now. So it's very difficult for the Taliban to have actually make up a cabinet of people who are not on a terrorist list. But that was the whole point about this cabinet. It was supposed to be a cabinet - an inclusive cabinet which would contain non-Taliban and members of other ethnic groups who are not belonging to the Taliban ethnic group, the Pashtuns, and also, of course, include women. And none of that has happened.
KELLY: And what does it tell us about the Taliban and how it intends to conduct relations with the U.S., with the rest of the West, that these people are prominent, at least in the acting government?
RASHID: Yeah, it's very clear. Either they don't understand the proportions of what they've done and they don't understand the Western reaction, which is already coming through today from China, from Germany, from Britain and, of course, from the United States. So it's really - we have to see whether they are going to exert some changes and have a cabinet that is more inclusive.
KELLY: While we've got you, among the other things that caught my eye - you mentioned there are no women in this interim lineup. They also appear to have done away with the Ministry for Women's Affairs.
RASHID: Yes, they have. There's no sign of a woman in the top cabinet, and there's no accommodation of anything to do with women in the government. There was a very active Ministry of Women's Affairs. And, of course, in the recent few years, it has become even more promising and active. But that has just completely disappeared. And a lot of women who have high-profile jobs, such as in banking, in hospitals, teaching, many of them have just been told to go home and sit it out until they are called. And we really don't know whether they will be called back to work or not.
KELLY: Journalist Ahmed Rashid speaking with us from Lahore, Pakistan. Thank you so much.
RASHID: Thank you.
KELLY: And he joined us via Skype. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.