Don Rassler, Assistant Professor of Social Sciences at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, discussed his coauthored book, “Fountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 1973-2012,” during a START book talk this month.
During the talk, Rassler detailed how his career path led to him writing the history that documents the central role of the Haqqani network in fostering local, regional and global militancy. Rassler was an undergraduate student at the University of Oregon when he participated in a study abroad program that traveled to India, Nepal and China.
“Living in another country was a transformational experience for me, and led me to my interest in the region and international affairs,” said Rassler, Director of the Harmony Research Program at the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point.
Upon graduation, Rassler temporarily moved back to India to work for an Indian organization focused on human rights and security issues.
As a result of his international experiences, Rassler enrolled in Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs with a focus in international security policy. One of Rassler’s courses, an introduction to terrorism studies, was taught by former CTC Director Lieutenant Colonel Reid Sawyer.
After completing his degree, Rassler moved to Washington, D.C., to gain professional experience in the defense consultation sphere, and interned on Capitol Hill for one of Oregon’s senators. When the CTC advertised a job opening, Rassler competed for and won a position.
CTC researchers are encouraged to shape their own research agendas, and Rassler noticed that the focus on Arabic-language sources had resulted in a dearth of information about the Haqqani network.
“We were interested in providing information on the group’s historical evolution, and the role it played over three decades of conflict in the region,” Rassler said.
Rassler and his coauthor, Vahid Brown, spent several years compiling primary qualitative data for the book.
“We found a treasure trove of previously overlooked documents, many of them authored by and signed by key Haqqani leaders. We also came across a series of magazines that were produced by the Haqqani network and housed in a public library in Kabul, Afghanistan,” Rassler said.
Accessing these publications was paramount to the team’s research. Rassler and Brown used the information to illuminate the Haqqani network’s ideological worldview, but also its pragmatism as it managed its nexus position between various militant actors and the Pakistani state.
According to the authors, the Haqqani network had previously been largely misunderstood and underappreciated. Rassler said the goal of their book, “Fountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 1973-2012,” is to portray the Haqqani network in a new light and help underscore the network’s role in the jihadist movement.