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Talking to Haqqani: How it was done

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Liliane Landor | 16:44 UK time, Monday, 3 October 2011

How and why would you interview a key leader of one of Afghanistan's most feared anti-Western militant groups?

The Haqqani network has been blamed for a series of recent deadly attacks in its home country.

So its leaders' thoughts and motivations, however distasteful, are clearly of importance.

But the people at the head of such networks do not tend readily to put themselves forward for questioning by established media organisations.

The BBC had been pursuing an interview with the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network for some months.

Then, last Sunday, a BBC Pashto reporter in the Khost province of Afghanistan, was approached by an envoy of Siraj Haqqani - the son of Jalaluddin, the group's founder, who has a key role in the network's operations.

There followed a series of phone calls between Emal Pasarly, of the BBC Afghan service, and senior BBC editors. Here Emal describes what happened next:


Some of the decisions were simple enough - clearly the BBC couldn't really allow one of its reporters to travel to an undisclosed location, probably somewhere in North Waziristan.

On safety grounds alone it wasn't on.

Siraj Haqqani, a rising star in the second generation of Taliban leaders, is one of the most wanted persons in that part of the world.

One of his brothers was said to have been killed in a US drone attack, and pressure on the Haqqani network had been mounting, particularly after the attack on the US embassy in Kabul and the killing of the peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani.

In both, the Haqqani network was mentioned as the most probable perpetrators.

Siraj Haqqani tends to avoid media spotlight. He has granted very few interviews, and photographic images of him are rare. He avoids communication via telephone and instead addresses his supporters through audio recordings. The latter later proved to be a great help to us.

One option discussed for the interview was sending questions through intermediaries in the hope of getting the answers. In principle, it could work, but there was one problem - verification.

We knew technology would be of help. A list of questions was passed to the Haqqani representatives and a request to record the answers on video.

After five days a memory stick arrived - delivered through a network of various people to BBC colleagues in the Khost province. But when it was plugged into a computer there was no video. Instead, there was a voice - in a broadcast-quality audio recording.

The voice answered the BBC's questions, although the responses appeared to be scripted - at least that's how it sounded.

Was it really Siraj Haqqani?

We set about trying to verify the recording, asking residents of Khost, who had in the past heard Siraj Haqqani, to listen to it. It took three days of painstaking work. Eventually we got the confirmation that the audio recordings were him. We then compared the voice to that on audio tapes we had of him. We were convinced it was a match. We were ready to roll.

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Liliane Landor is languages controller of BBC Global News.


  • Comment number 1.

    Part 1.
    Is the Haqqani Network simply a vehicle to promote war against Pakistan?
    Is the Haqqani Network a real threat to the US, an arm of the Taliban, attached to the Pakistani ISI? Deja vu - like al-Qaida, another anti-American group has materialized or been created to serve as rationale for an American invasion - previously Iraq/Afghanistan, and now Pakistan?
    In spite of American successes, a new terrorist network has emerged: The Haqqani Network. It wouldn't surprise me if The Haqqani network receives support from the ISI or if ISI provides sanctuary for the Haqqani’s hometown of Miram Shah in North Waziristan, but why would this be dangerous to US?
    The Haqqani network’s expansion into Kurram, a strategic Pakistani Province only 90 kilometers from Kabul has gone unchecked by the Pakistani government. There is some evidence to suggest that Pakistani military intervention in Kurram has actually aided the expansion and stabilization of Haqqani operations. Is the Haqqani Network an orchestrated threat - conjured up by the US government as the pretense for going to war with Pakistan?
    The answer is that Pakistan is potentially a huge US national security problem. My personal belief - Haqqani network is simply the "yellow cake" to be used for an invasion of Pakistan.

  • Comment number 2.

    Part 2.
    “Have you ever before heard of the Haqqanis?
    I doubt it. Like Al Qaeda, about which no one had ever heard prior to 9/11, the “Haqqani Network” has popped just in time, when needed for America’s next war–Pakistan. The "war on terror" must be fed. The US economy depnds on it. The Haqqani Network, according to Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, is a “veritable arm” of the Pakistani government’s intelligence service, ISI. Washington claims that the ISI ordered its Haggani Network to attack the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on September 13 along with the US military base in Wadak province. Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Armed Services committee and one of the main Republican warmongers, declared that “all options are on the table” and gave the Pentagon his assurance that in Congress there was broad bipartisan support for a US military attack on Pakistan.
    As Washington has been killing large numbers of Pakistani civilians with drones and has forced the Pakistani army to hunt for Al Qaeda throughout most of Pakistan, producing tens of thousands or more of dislocated Pakistanis, Sen. Graham must have something larger in mind. The Pakistani government thinks so, too. The Pakistani prime minister,Yousuf Raza Gilani, called his foreign minister home from talks in Washington and ordered an emergency meeting of the government to assess the prospect of an American invasion. Meanwhile, Washington is rounding up additional reasons to add to the new threat from the Haqqanis to justify making war on Pakistan: Pakistan has nuclear weapons, is unstable, nukes in the wrong hands; US can’t win in Afghanistan until it has eliminated sanctuaries in Pakistan; blah-blah and more blah!

  • Comment number 3.

    This rather reads like a cross between the X-Factor and Blue Peter, only with murderers (deadly attacks usually resulting in innocents being killed, much as the BBC likes to dance through hoops on how such acts get described) and bombs instead of sticky back plastic.

    How and why would you interview a key leader of one of Afghanistan's most feared anti-Western militant groups?

    At least the question is being asked. But being 'The Editors', why does one suspect the answers will be more 'broadcast only' thereafter?

    So its leaders' thoughts and motivations, however distasteful, are clearly of importance.

    Well, yes, but perhaps more to those seeking to stop them. The appeal to a media outfit is clear: sensationalism. Then there is an appeal to the perpetrator: exposure. Terrorists do like that, and this is why they court it. Of course, going after them to provide an opportunity for single direction exposure is a new twist. In history, it had another name of course.

    The BBC had been pursuing an interview with the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network for some months.

    And as an established media organisation, I am not sure such pursuit, on such a basis, is really the remit of the national broadcaster.

    No matter how seduced those complicit were and are with this 'rising star'.. of deadly attacks. Especially peace envoys. Probably.

    The voice answered the BBC's questions, although the responses appeared to be scripted - at least that's how it sounded.

    That... is hardly an interview. Did he answer all the BBC's questions? Or just those he fancied. And were these vetted (by the BBC's own unique sensitivity squad or intermediaries) first?

    This is thinly veiled propaganda.

    Was it really Siraj Haqqani?

    And you don't even really know. Confirmation how... from whom? As the BBCs previous outings with ME sources show, your systems are worth little.

    Unique. As a licence fee compellee I feel well and truly rolled. How any trying to defend us from these individuals with the dear BBC friends at 'work' in such a manner feel, I can't imagine.

  • Comment number 4.

    By all accounts, the BBC is very sympathetic to these movements and one wonders why licence payers should fund these interviews. Why not simply stay at home, out of danger, and write anti US and pro Islamic material from safety in London. No one who reads widely of this war and of Pakistan's role can take the BBC news seriously; its too biased. You served the country well during the second world war, but you have lost the plot with your tacit support for Islamic militants.

  • Comment number 5.

    Dear Editor...

    Please can you change/correct the name 'Sophie Clark' to 'Sophie Barker'? How on earth does an institution such as the BBC make an error like this? I mean, really?!!!!

  • Comment number 6.

    When will we ever learn that when we attack our neighbour's premises, that there will be a reaction. In UK, Europe and even the US usually, the public will favour a strategy of withdrawal of the attacker. Why shoud we feel differently for the Haqquani???

  • Comment number 7.

    Why do you support these people by giving them a voice.

    I suppose in the end its just down to public school boys getting a bit of a thrill. Jolly good chat at a dinner party never mind the dead and maimed.

  • Comment number 8.

    I totally agree with lostvoice. Why give these people who are clearly out to do as much damage as possible to the average afghani, the troops trying to rid that country of terrorism, and more importantly, present a totally an unwarrented biased view of the religion they claim to represent a voice. We have seen in Lybia recently how by giving Gidaffi (spelling sorry) a voice only gave him a way to misrepresent what was trying to be achieved by the freedom fighters and the Nato forces by instilling fear into his enforced and deluded followers words which he had never utter before the interview. These people should never be given a voice. They should just be named and shamed by the facts at hand for the atrosities they have and are planning to commit. And yet we are still forced to pay a licence fee to keep you people in employment. Don't you know we are in the middle of a recession. Instead of giving voice to these despots, why not give a voice to the average Joe on the street who can't feed their families or stay warm this winter. SHAME ON ALL OF YOU

  • Comment number 9.

    2. Then Burhanuddin Rabbani was killed by a suicide bomber on 20 September which gave a deadly blow to peace process. It depressed Karzai so deeply that he gave up on negotiations with Taliban. US military officials led by retiring Admiral Mike Mullen hastened to fabricate a charges against Pakistan’sISI asserting that it was linked with HN. By 22 September when Mullen addressed the Senate Armed Services Committee, he looked defeated. US had decided to make Pakistan scapegoat. Pak-US relations have been downhill since Raymond Davis & 2 May incidents. Rather than feeling remorseful & trying to compensate Pakistan, US officials remained unapologetic. They are now threatening to take unilateral action in NW in case Pakistan didn't agree to do so. US has become obsessed with 3-4000 fighters in NW; no progress can be achieved in Afghanistan without their elimination. To make matters worse, its strongest ally Pakistan which has taken the major brunt of sacrifice over its US alliance, has taken the bullying US officials by complete surprise. Soon after, it held an All Parties Conference. 13-point resolution laid out Pakistan will give peace a chance & will not abide by the dictates of the US which are against its national interests. Hawks in US military & CIA, pushed by Jewish & Indian lobbyists will keep pressure Pakistan. Indo-Afghan strategic alliance is also aimed at giving a message to Pakistan. Accusation by Kabul that Pakistan had a hand in Burhanuddin Tus murder & latest revelation that six persons have been held in Kabul over an alleged plot to assassinate Afghan President is an indication spinners are hard at work.
    Pakistan should not relent under any circumstances.

  • Comment number 10.

    1. US has dual-track: 1. shoot Taliban 2. talk peace with Taliban.
    US has been constantly trying to win over Mullah Omar or Jalaluddin Haqqani or any of his sons like Sirajuddin & Badruddin since. It is realized without their cooperation political settlement is nowhere. US has been pushing Pakistan to go after Haqqani Network (HN) in North Waziristan (NW) while US wooed leadership of HN to breakaway from Mullah Omar & join Karzai’s government.
    ISI was availed to establish contacts. HN refused to dialogue with US. Sirajuddin conveyed HN was not a separate entity but part of Taliban under Ameer-ul Momineen Mullah Omar who is regarded with deep sense of respect; they obey his - not US commands. US, frustrated used CIA to accelerate drone strikes in NW while keeping pressure on Pakistan. Of course Pakistan Army was reluctant: it had STRONG suspicion US: US spin doctors accused Pakistan of alignment with Taliban & al-Qaeda.
    To dispel false impression, US undertook spectacular offensive actions in & around Kabul - attack on Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul on 28 June, murders of 2 aides Ahmad Wali Karzai & Jan Muhammad in July. The downing of US Chinook in Wardak in August took the lives of 38 American soldiers of Special Forces including 23 belonging to unit of Navy Seals that had taken part in Operation ‘Get Geronimo’ on 2 May. September 13 attack on US Embassy, NATO HQ & Afghan National Security Directorate in the most protected capital, Kabul was worrisome for the US. The attack exposed the fragility of security system but also laid bare the weakness of security forces which had no clue how to deal with six militants who had paralyzed the capital city for 20 hours.

  • Comment number 11.

    NATO already understands the Law of Attraction. In/to this grave issue, must I now declare? Lucifer has risen of course, not to be seen is the Holy Spirit of Nazi's willful ends trying to justify the means. the past we have seen war and chaos and else would we know of it? Yet, in our imaginations of something we will soon forget, let us remind ourselves: God's plan is perfect.

  • Comment number 12.

    So, given the feedback thus far, any comments on why it was done, and in this manner?

  • Comment number 13.

    Abhijit_Lahiri compliments the BBC coverage which is backed by undaunted mindset and impeccable professional expertize.

  • Comment number 14.

    I wonder how BBC convince the "man" to accept a interview. Does the man just want to use BBC to convey something?

    check what is his next step in dominating his sphere

  • Comment number 15.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?


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