This volume is an analysis of the role of the so-called “Haqqani network” as a “nexus” between groups and organizations dedicated to waging jihad for a variety of causes and aims. Fountainhead of Jihad joins a debate on the Taliban in Afghanistan and the extent of their linkage to international jihadi organizations. The first of two main schools in this debate argues that the Taliban are not interested in international jihad, and therefore would not represent a threat to Western powers in the event of full disengagement from Afghanistan. The second argument contests that the Taliban, or part thereof, maintain connections with international jihadi groups, of which al-Qa‘ida is just one and thus disengagement from Afghanistan would result in the export of jihad from Afghanistan once again. With some caution and qualifications, Vahid Brown and Dan Rassler belong to the second group, although they limit their analysis to the Haqqani network, one of the main components of the Taliban, which is not representative of the movement as a whole. Most of the material they have used is the Haqqani’s own publications in a number of languages, supplemented by other public domain sources and interviews with various observers, including counterinsurgency practitioners.
The interpretation provided by the authors of this volume is coherent. The publications of the Haqqani network feature a lot of commentary and reporting on the activities of non-Afghan jihadi groups active on Afghan territory. It is evident there that the Haqqanis maintained a relationship not only with Pakistani jihadi organizations, but also with groups like the Islamic Jihad Union and even al-Qa‘ida, to some extent at least. The authors conclude that “the Haqqani network has proven able to provide value to local, regional, and global actors while simultaneously incorporating inputs from each actor group into a combined system of violence which, at least in theory, has been able to keep the interests of each segmented over time” (p. 219).
The main criticism which could be extended to the authors’ interpretation is that their main source, the Haqqani literature, might well have been intended for the purpose of mobilizing funding and therefore might have purposely overstated the influence and role of the international jihadis. This is a plausible criticism, as in the absence of more detailed information on the Haqqani’s funding cannot be ruled out. In their defense, Brown and Rassler also use other sources such as memoirs of Arab and other volunteers, or interrogation files, to support their analysis, but inevitably, a shadow of doubt remains.
Apart from contributing to a very political debate on the relationship between the Taliban and al-Qa‘ida, the volume also extensively discusses the history of the Haqqanis from the time of their first involvement in armed struggle against Daud Khan’s republic in the mid-1970s to their incorporation within the Taliban, which still appeared solid as of early 2013. Although the authors clearly state that their aim is not to write a comprehensive history of the Haqqanis, there is plenty of information in this book about the network and its development over the years. The volume should therefore be considered a useful contribution to the history of the 1980s jihad against the Soviet army and the leftist regime, as well to the history of the Taliban as movement and government.
Dr. Antonio Giustozzi is Visiting Professor at the War Studies Department, King’s College London.