Terror - And the Ties That Bind
The Taliban and Harakat ul-Ansar (HUA)

2 November 1997

It comes as no surprise that the US State Department has blacklisted Harakat ul-Ansar, Pakistan's armed agents in Indian Kashmir, as a terrorist organization. What's astonishing is that the Taliban - HUA's far more ambitious sister organization, serving Pakistan in Afghanistan much as the HUA does in Kashmir - were left off the list.

As the October 1997 issue of the authoritative Jane's Intelligence Review (JIR) describes in some detail, the HUA and the Taliban share common origins, personnel and especially patrons. The latter include Pakistan's obscurantist JUI faction; an Afghan mercenary warlord now in Taliban hire; Arab extremists; and above all, Pakistan's main spy service, the Inter Services Intelligence directorate (ISI):

"The origins of the HUA can be found in 1982 along Pakistan's western borders. ...[Its current leader] Fazl Rahman Khalil founded the HUA's parent organisation, the Harakat ul-Mujahideen [from which] the HUA inherited not only its leader but also its underlying spirit and and a considerable quantity of arms and personnel ...[they] were based mainly in the Khost region, in Paktia province, and participated in military operations conducted by the main regional commander, Jalaluddin Haqqani.

"[T]wo essential features ... characterise today's HUA. The first of these [is] its links with mainstream politics in Pakistan, namely the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islami (JUI) fundamentalist party ...[Their leaders] have from the outset shared a common view of politics and religion ... both share a conviction ... in the organised opposition to 'enemies of Islam': the West, India and Israel ... The USA is seen as 'the biggest enemy of Islam' and one which has been free to undermine the Muslim world since the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

"The alliance between the HUA and JUI-F has led one Western intelligence analyst to describe the HUA as 'essentially the armed wing of the JUI'...

"[This] also helps account for the strong international links that currently characterise the HUA ... According to [the US State Department report] Patterns of Global Terrorism, the HUA specifically 'includes Afghans and Arab members of the Afghan war' ...

"[T]he Western analysts who today monitor the HUA harbour no doubt that the complicity of ISI is more than merely passive. The HUA owes its considerable arsenal in large measure to the generosity of the Pakistani Government or, more specifically, its intelligence service. 'We know without any doubt that Harakat ul-Ansar is very heavily backed by ISI,' said an intelligence source in Islamabad recently."


The Taliban run HUA's training facilities. The Independent (London), JIR and others have reported that the Taliban have maintained HUA's training camps in eastern Afghanistan though they promised Western officials they would be closed. Today, HUA's Afghan patron Jalaluddin Haqqani, the mercenary warlord who has run those camps since the early 1980s, and his followers are the linchpin of Taliban occupation forces in Kabul - when they're not training HUA terrorists back in Paktia.

HUA and the Taliban play the same strategic role: extending Pakistani hegemony into neighboring states. JIR notes that in contrast to other Kashmiri groups, "the HUA has always advocated rule from Islamabad" - precisely what a Taliban victory would mean, in fact if not in name, in Afghanistan.

Where the Taliban and HUA do differ, the Taliban look even worse. "On occasion," notes JIR, the HUA "has allowed innocent civilians to get caught in the crossfire." Applied to the Taliban that would be comic understatement: Their spokesmen left no doubt, during 1995-96, that they were starving and shelling Kabul's civilians in order to drive them from their homes. The Taliban's other Balkan-style outrages have far surpassed anything HUA has attempted. Ironically, it was HUA's Afghan patron Haqqani who led Taliban ethnic-cleansing operations north of Kabul, forcing 100,000 civilians from their homes in the dead of last winter.

The Taliban's links with international terrorism are far better documented than those of HUA (see "The Taliban's New Friend," in this site's News Review section). The Oct. 13 international edition of Newsweek reported that the Taliban used a $3 million gift from terrorist financier Osama bin Ladin - "a radical Saudi national wanted by US Justice Department officials on suspicion of having bankrolled several major terrorist attacks, including the truck bombing of the US military barracks in Khobar" - to buy "the strategic Afghan defections that stripped away Kabul's defenses" last year.

In short, the Taliban owe their physical occupation of Kabul - their only factual claim to legitimacy - to help from "one of the most significant financial sponsors of Islamic extremist activities in the world," as the US has dubbed bin Ladin. But bin Ladin isn't the Taliban's only sponsor: Newsweek notes that though "no direct ties were found between the Taliban and US spy services, the group has enjoyed the full backing of Washington's main friends in the region, Islamabad and Riyadh ... Riyadh became the Taliban's main source of funds." This might have some bearing on the US reluctance to slap the Taliban with the terrorist label they so richly deserve.

The United States, as a matter of urgent self-interest, should develop independent views on Afghanistan, from a perspective not influenced by rogue states and regional troublemakers.