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Critical Threats: The Haqqani Network in Kurram

May 1, 2011

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In this report by the Institute for the Study of War and AEI's Critcal Threats Project, Jeffrey Dressler and Reza Jan look at the expansion of the Haqqani network, Afghanistan's most capable insurgent organization, and argue taht the peace accords signed between the Sunnis and Shias lack legitimacy.

In February 2011, Sunni and Shia tribesmen in Kurram Agency, a tribal region in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province), signed a historic peace deal that brought nearly four years of internecine warfare to an end. As part of the agreement, Sunni militants agreed to reopen the agency's main road that had been blockaded since April 2007. This newfound peace in Kurram, however, also allowed the Haqqani Network, an Afghanistan-focused insurgent network and one of the most powerful and violent organizations in the region, to dramatically strengthen its position. The Haqqanis were influential in brokering the peace between Sunni and Shia tribes in return for access through Kurram to Afghanistan's eastern provinces.

Kurram is a region of special strategic importance to Afghanistan-focused insurgents. It served as a base to the Afghan Mujahideen during the war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s and is coveted by insurgents today because of its “parrot's beak” shape that protrudes deep into eastern Afghanistan. This allows convenient access to several Afghan provinces and is the shortest route to Kabul from anywhere in Pakistan. This access has become critical for Haqqani Network fighters, who have lost much of their ability to project force into Kabul due to coalition targeting of their network in southeastern Afghanistan throughout 2009 and 2010. The Haqqanis have been pressured in their main area of operations—namely the provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika along the border with Pakistan—and have since sought new routes into Kabul. The Haqqanis have also come under pressure from drone strikes in their sanctuary of North Waziristan, near the border with Afghanistan in Pakistan's tribal areas.

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