A senior Haqqani network commander in Afghanistan, who is also the uncle of the group’s leader, has been captured in the war-torn country, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said Saturday.
“Security forces detained Haji Mali Khan, uncle of Siraj and Badruddin Haqqani and the senior Haqqani commander in Afghanistan,” ISAF said in a statement, adding he was captured in southeast Afghanistan Tuesday.
The announcement came as the United States puts increasing pressure on Pakistan to take action against the Haqqani network, a Taliban-allied insurgent group blamed by officials for many attacks in the Afghan capital Kabul.
Last week, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, accused Pakistan of exporting violence to Afghanistan through proxies.
He also charged that the Haqqani network, whose leadership is based in Pakistan’s border regions, was a “veritable arm” of Pakistani intelligence.
In an interview Friday, President Barack Obama did not endorse Mullen’s accusations but said Pakistan “have got to take care of this problem”.
“I think Mike’s testimony expressed frustration over the fact that safe havens exist, including the Haqqani network safe haven inside Pakistan,” Obama said on the Michael Smerconish syndicated radio show.
“I think that the intelligence is not as clear as we might like in terms of what exactly that relationship is,” he added.
“But my attitude is whether there is active engagement with Haqqani on the part of the Pakistanis or just passively allowing them to operate with impunity in some of these border regions, they have got to take care of this problem.”
The Haqqani network was founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a warlord who made his name during the 1980s jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan, when he received funding from Pakistan and the CIA.
Haqqani is a member of the Taliban's supreme council but his son Sirajuddin now effectively runs the network.
Khan was captured close to Afghanistan’s porous border with Pakistan in Paktiya province.
“He reportedly worked directly under Siraj Haqqani, and managed bases and had oversight of operations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan,” ISAF said.
“Mali Khan moved forces from Pakistan to Afghanistan to conduct terrorist activity. Jalaluddin Haqqani consistently placed Mali Khan in positions of high importance.”
ISAF added that Khan had acted as an emissary between the al-Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud and Haqqani leaders. Mehsud was killed by a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2009.
A spokesman for Afghanistan’s intelligence agency the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Lutfullah Mashal, confirmed the capture but gave different details of his relationship with the network's leader.
“We know that he is a member of Sirajuddin Haqqani’s family but we are not sure if he is the immediate cousin. He is maybe the cousin of Sirajuddin Haqqani’s cousin,” he said.
“I am not sure if he was really an active Haqqani commander,” he added, referring media queries back to ISAF.
A senior Western security source speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity added that the name of Haji Mali Khan was not familiar as that of a leading insurgent figure.
The Haqqani network has been blamed for a string of attacks in Afghanistan, particularly in the capital Kabul.
Most recently, Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, said it was behind a 19-hour attack which targeted the American embassy and led to at least six rocket-propelled grenades landing in its grounds.