New Delhi: In a first since Taliban regained control of Afghanistan last year, the leader of dreaded Haqqani Network and the country’s minister of interior affairs Sirajuddin Haqqani, who carries a USD 10 million bounty on his head, made a public appearance Saturday.
However, it was not just his first pictured and video graphed public appearance that drew attention, but also his purported struggle in reciting verses from the Quran.
Haqqani is the son of Haqqani Network founder, Jalaluddin Haqqani, and currently handles the activities of the group.
The network — commonly described as a Sunni Islamist militant organisation — was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organisation by the United States in 2012. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has also put a bounty on Sirajuddin, offering up to $10 million for providing information leading directly to him.
Not only is this the first time that clear photos of Sirajuddin Haqqani have been released in the public media in decades, Saturday’s event was also the first time that the Taliban government is believed to have released images of the minister. Earlier, in October, his face had either been covered in all photos of an event in which he had been present, or were deliberately blurred.
On Saturday, however, a Twitter handle that is claimed to be of Zabihulla Mujahid, spokesperson of the Afghan government, tweeted videos of an event which clearly showed Sirajuddin.
د کورنیو چارو سرپرست وزیر خلیفه سراج الدین حقاني د ملي پولیسو اکاډمۍ څخه د افسرانو دیارلسمې دورې فراغت غونډه کې: زموږ مسلکي کدرونه دې تشویش نه کوي او نه دې ځانونه پردي ګڼي. دوی د دې ملک بچیان دي او د دې ملک خدمت زموږ ټولو شریکه وجیبه ده. pic.twitter.com/P5UKvL6PjR
— RTA Pashto (@rtapashto) March 5, 2022
The minister had been addressing the graduation ceremony of police personnel who had been recruited after the Taliban took over the control of the country.
Speaking at the ceremony, Sirajuddin, reportedly said that the “the international community should not see his government as a threat and that foreign aid was needed to revive the country”.
Videos shared on the social media also showed Pakistan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Mansoor Ahmad Khan, to be present at the ceremony and standing in attention as Haqqani walked in.
Pakistani Ambassador stands in attention when Haqqani Network Chief terrorist and Interior Minister of Taliban Sirajuddin Haqqani leaves. But Haqqani ignores him and walks away. pic.twitter.com/E3Q42Eq13U
— Aditya Raj Kaul (@AdityaRajKaul) March 5, 2022
Problems in reciting the Quran
Apart from the rare release of his image, the other thing that has been making news about Sirajuddin’s Saturday event, was the minister’s alleged inability to recite properly from the Quran.
According to Hamid Haideri, editor in chief of the 1 TV News Afghanistan — an Afghan news channel — “Haqqani began his speech at a graduation ceremony with a verse from Surah Al-Imran, but was unable to recite it correctly”.
In a 21-second video clip of the event shared by Haideri on Twitter, Sirajuddin appeared to be struggling to remember the exact verse and had to take help of notes.
#Sirajuddin Haqqani, Taliban acting interior minister misread the Quran during his first appearance in front of a media camera in Kabul.
Haqqani began his speech at a graduation ceremony with a verse from Surah Al-Imran, but was unable to recite it correctly pic.twitter.com/xMOgJRTYF1
— Hamid Haidari (@Hamidhaideri) March 6, 2022
A longer video posted by a Twitter handle named ‘Taliban Exposed’ (which posts anti-Taliban content) suggests that Haqqani had omitted saying ‘sadaq Allah Al-Azeem’ (meaning Allah Almighty speaks the truth) — as is uttered at the end of every recitation of a verse from the Quran. The minister later said it, after someone reminded him of it.
In his first appearance, Sirajuddin Haqqani
makes a mistake in a famous Quran verse. pic.twitter.com/B7TpLMJiF9
— Taliban Exposed (@talibs_exposed) March 5, 2022
Haqqani’s struggle with the Quran recitation has not gone down well with many in Afghanistan
According to Sharif Hassan, a New York Times reporter in Afghanistan, Haqqani is under attack by opponents for misreading the Quran verse.
Seraj Haqqani is under attack by opponents for misreading a Quran verse when he was speaking in an event yesterday in #Kabul.
— Sharif Hassan (@MSharif1990) March 6, 2022
(With inputs from PTI. ThePrint took the help of Siraj Hassoun — a Syrian student studying in India — in translating the videos.)
Also read: Empire of poppies: Why countries think stopping Taliban’s narco-state is not worth the cost