The man depicted in the photo with the 40th president of the United States was a top Afghan mujahideen leader, Mohammed Younis Khalis, who headed a delegation to the U.S. in late 1987. At the time, the Afghan fighters were battling the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, with U.S. support.
Pakistan’s Dawn daily ran the picture, accompanying a Reuters story on the Haqqani network, with the caption, “This picture taken from web shows Jalaluddin Haqqani, father of Sirajuddin Haqqani, with former US President Ronald Reagan. Courtesy Time & Life Pictures Getty Image – Online.”
The Reuters story accompanying the miscaptioned photo (the photo has since been removed from the Dawn site) included a sentence saying that Haqqani “visited the White House when Ronald Reagan was president.”
A simple Web search brings up the original picture on the Getty Images site, with the correct caption, “Afghan Chmn. of Islamic Union of Mujahedeen, Mohammed Younis Khalis with Pres. Ronald Reagan at the White House. (Photo by Dirck Halstead//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)”
The photo, accompanied by the inaccurate caption, quickly circulated in cyberspace. Pakistan’s Ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani – himself a former prominent journalist – evidently fueled the error, by bringing the photo to the attention of a popular South Asian television network.
India’s popular NDTV broadcaster opened a “top story” segment with the words, “Backing [Pakistan] Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s point that the Haqqani terror network was created by the U.S., Pakistan’s ambassador shows NDTV a clip on his cell phone of former President Ronald Reagan hosting Jalaluddin Haqqani at the White House with great fanfare.”
According to news reports from the time, during the 1987 visit to the U.S., the Afghan leaders attempted to win support at the U.N. General Assembly for them to be given Afghanistan’s U.N. seat, held at the time by the Soviet-backed puppet regime in Kabul.
After the U.N. voted overwhelming for a resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of the 100,000 troops the Soviet Union had deployed in Afghanistan since 1979, the delegation went to Washington. There they met with Reagan, just three weeks before he was scheduled to hold a summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
A Chicago Tribune report dated November 13, 1987 quoted Reagan as telling the visitors, “The support that the United States has been providing the resistance will be strengthened rather than diminished, so that it can continue to fight effectively for freedom.”
The delegation was headed by Khalis, who led an alliance of mujahideen leaders.
Others in the delegation included Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was later to become Afghan president, and much more recently, peace of the Afghan peace council. He was assassinated last week.
Also in the 1987 delegation were two traditionalist leaders, Sibghattallah Mojadidi and Ahmed Gailani, both close to the deposed king, Mohammed Zahir Shah.
Jalaluddin Haqqani, at the time a commander in Paktia province, was not part of the delegation, although he was allied to Khalis. Paktia borders North Waziristan, the area in Pakistan’s tribal belt where the Haqqani network has its stronghold today.
A Library of Congress country study of Afghanistan describes Khalis as “an accomplished scholar” and “militant Islamist,” but one who also agreed with Rabbani’s “political gradualism.”
Khalis, who later supported the Taliban, died in 2006, aged 87.
U.S.-Pakistani relations reached a new low in recent days after Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of collusion with the Haqqani network in attacks against U.S. targets in Afghanistan. Mullen told a Senate committee that the network was a “veritable arm” of the ISI.
The claims triggered an uproar in Pakistan, and the government held a rare conference Thursday of all major political parties to formulate a unified response to what is being viewed as a major challenge to Pakistan’s sovereignty.
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday appeared to walk back Mullen’s charges, saying when asked about the ““veritable arm” claim, “It’s not language I would use.”
Mullen meanwhile told NPR he would not change any of the wording he used in connecting with Pakistani support for militants operating in Afghanistan. “I phrased it the way I wanted it to be phrased,” he said.