“The piece by Siraj Haqqani in @nytopinion — which’s independent of our news operations & judgment — omits the most fundamental fact,” Mujib Mashal, the Times’s senior correspondent in Afghanistan, tweeted, “that Siraj is no Taliban peace-maker as he paints himself, that he’s behind some of most ruthless attacks of this war with many civilian lives lost.”
Haqqani used the Times op-ed to urge U.S. and Afghan leaders to find a path to end the decades-long strife in Afghanistan.
“For more than four decades, precious Afghan lives have been lost every day,” he wrote. “Everyone has lost somebody they loved. Everyone is tired of war. I am convinced that the killing and the maiming must stop.”
Some of the criticism of the op-ed stemmed from the Times not explaining the Haqqani family’s role in the Taliban or the author’s involvement in deadly military strikes that have killed Afghan citizens and American soldiers. Sirajuddin Haqqani commanded a guerrilla force of at least 5,000 fighters in Afghanistan, The Washington Post’s Haq Nawaz Khan and Pamela Constable reported in 2017. He is a leader of the Haqqani network, established by his father and feared for particularly brutal attacks.
“The Haqqani and Taliban are responsible for the death of dozens of American soldiers and atrocities against Afghan civilians,” added Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) in a tweet Thursday. “@nytimes should be ashamed of itself for enabling this blatant propaganda from a designated global terrorist, all in the name of ‘diverse reviews.’”
The FBI offers $5 million for information leading to his arrest. “Sirajuddin Haqqani is wanted for questioning in connection with the January 2008 attack on a hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed six people, including an American citizen,” the bureau says on its website. “He is believed to have coordinated and participated in cross-border attacks against United States and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Haqqani also allegedly was involved in the planning of the assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2008.”
Midway through the story, the op-ed offered a link for readers to learn “more on the Haqqani network,” which directed to a 2016 news story that said the militant group was leading a “deadlier Taliban in Afghanistan.”
The Times defended the decision to publish the piece. “We know firsthand how dangerous and destructive the Taliban is,” Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy said in a statement emailed to The Washington Post. “But, our mission at Times Opinion is to tackle big ideas from a range of newsworthy viewpoints. We’ve actively solicited voices from all sides of the Afghanistan conflict, the government, the Taliban and from citizens. Sirajuddin Haqqani is the second-in-command of the Taliban at a time when its negotiators are hammering out an agreement with American officials in Doha that could result in American troops leaving Afghanistan. That makes his perspective relevant at this particular moment.”
The spokesperson also pointed out that the publication has employed a “fulltime team of reporters in Afghanistan since the start of the war nearly 20 years ago” and that several journalists, including former Times reporter David Rohde, who is now an executive editor for the New Yorker, have been kidnapped by Taliban-linked terrorists inside the Haqqani network.
Still, many observers found a link insufficient context for readers evaluating Haqqani’s opinion while some objected to affording him space with or without context.
“Sirajuddin Haqqani is a notorious war crimes suspect being investigated by the International Criminal Court,” Andrew Stroehlein, the European media director for the Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter. “Why does the New York Times give him op-ed space?”
Retired four-star Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, who commanded troops in Afghanistan during the Obama administration and is now president of the Brookings Institution, told the Daily Beast the decision to publish the op-ed raised questions about judgment in the Times newsroom.
“Giving the Haqqani terror network the platform of the NYT for the expression of their views on the so-called peace plan creates a strategic communications coup,” he told the publication.
“PBS NewsHour” correspondent Nick Schifrin noted the magnitude of publishing an op-ed from Haqqani.
“For anyone who has lived in, covered, or otherwise cared about Afghanistan and Pakistan, that alone is extraordinary,” he tweeted.
Some lawmakers continued to voice their displeasure over the Times’ decision.
“Appalled @nytimes has given leader of the Haqqani network and leader in Taliban room in their editorial pages to espouse his views,” Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) tweeted. “Haqqani network is responsible for 1000s of Americans killed in Afghanistan and provides shelter to al Qaeda operatives … they sheltered Bin Laden.”