Sept. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is blacklisting as terrorists the Haqqani Network, a militant group responsible for some of the deadliest attacks on Americans in Afghanistan.
Meeting a 30-day deadline set by Congress, Clinton informed Congress today that the Haqqani Network, which operates partly from Pakistan, meets the criteria to be labeled as a foreign terrorist organization.
The administration will label the Haqqanis terrorists on a State Department blacklist as well as under a presidential executive order, she said. The moves will expand the administration’s powers to target the group’s finances and supporters.
“The designation removes any lingering ambiguity in U.S. policy regarding the Haqqani Network,” Shamila Chaudhary, a Washington-based analyst at the Eurasia Group, said today in an e-mail.
Blacklisting the group will criminalize “providing material support or resources to, or engaging in other transactions with, the Haqqani Network,” and will freeze “all property and interests in property” of the Haqqanis under U.S. jurisdiction or in the control of U.S. persons, Clinton said in a statement released from Vladivostok, Russia, where she arrived to attend a summit.
Clinton signed paperwork certifying the Haqqanis meet the criteria as a terrorist organization and stating her intent to blacklist them, a process that takes several days. She took the action today in Brunei before leaving for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, State Department officials said.
The decision follows months of intense debate within the White House, State Department, Pentagon, Treasury Department, Justice Department and the intelligence community over the merits and the timing of blacklisting the Haqqanis, according to officials from different U.S. agencies who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
That the Haqqanis met the criteria to be blacklisted was clear: they are foreign, they are terrorists, and they directly threaten U.S. interests, several officials said before the decision was made. What was harder to decide was whether it would serve U.S. goals and give the administration useful tools to designate them as a terror group -- a label that hasn’t been applied as yet to the Taliban, who are closely associated with the Haqqanis.
Another concern was how the label would affect U.S. relations with Pakistan, which some U.S. officials have accused of aiding the Haqqanis. Pakistan, Afghanistan’s nuclear-armed neighbor, serves as a crucial supply corridor for the U.S. war effort.
The issue was discussed with Pakistan in advance of today’s announcement, according to one of the U.S. officials and a Pakistani official, both of whom asked not to be identified discussing the private communications.
“Pakistan will undoubtedly come under more pressure to target the Haqqanis,” Chaudhary said. The move “cannot force Pakistan to take legal action against the network, but it opens up a debate on Pakistan’s role as a state sponsor of terrorism. Pakistan maintains links to the Haqqani Network and is reluctant to take action against it because the network can be useful to pursuing its security interests in Afghanistan after the NATO withdrawal in 2014.”
One official said before the decision was made that the administration had intended to blacklist the group at an opportune moment to send a message to Pakistan that it must get serious about cutting ties and squeezing the militants. By setting a 30-day deadline, Congress effectively forced the administration’s hand.
Representative Peter King, a Republican from New York who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, said in an e-mailed statement today that he welcomed the administration’s “belated” designation of the Haqqani Network,which he said makes it “imperative that the Pakistani government immediately sever its ties with the Haqqanis.”
In an e-mailed statement today on the U.S. action, the Pakistani Embassy in Washington said, “This is an internal matter for the United States. It is not our business. The Haqqanis are not Pakistani nationals. We will continue to work with all international partners including the U.S. in combating extremism and terrorism.”
Opponents within the administration had argued that slapping the Haqqanis with the label might hinder prospects for engaging them in reconciliation talks aimed at taking them off the battlefield and bettering the chances of peace following the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Those who prevailed countered that individual members of the network who were willing to lay down their arms could be disassociated from the label and be integrated into future talks.
That might not be so simple, according to analysts such as Chaudhary. The Haqqanis, who are closely affiliated with the Taliban, “will likely have a say in how negotiations proceed if they manage to gain steam again. The Haqqanis could push for the designation to be removed as part of the confidence-building process -- a move that would be extremely difficult for the U.S. to do under the current circumstances,” Chaudhary said.
The Haqqanis were already a leading target of U.S. combat and drone operations, and individual leaders have been labeled terrorists, allowing the Treasury to target their assets.
Advocates of blacklisting said that it would give the U.S. new tools to target a vast web of funding and business interests, from the Persian Gulf to Pakistan, and would send a strong message about zero tolerance to the Pakistan government.
A dossier laying out evidence that the Haqqanis met the criteria for blacklisting was delivered to Clinton several months ago, according to two of the U.S. officials.
Clinton didn’t act on the package right away, the officials said, because the U.S. was engaged at the time in sensitive talks with Pakistan over reopening NATO supply lines into Afghanistan. Blacklisting the Haqqanis -- a group that then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen last September called “a veritable arm” of Pakistani intelligence and security forces -- might have further soured already damaged relations and hurt prospects of a important deal on the supply routes, U.S. officials said at the time.
Analysts including Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation and Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, have said that designating the Haqqanis may complicate relations with Pakistan.
“It is a good step, but it raises a larger question,” said Riedel, a 30-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency. Links between the Pakistani intelligence community and the Haqqanis add to concerns about future U.S. economic and military support for Pakistan, he said.
“Are we going to continue to provide arms and money to an army that sponsors terrorists who kill our soldiers?” Riedel said.
Pakistan, whose help the U.S. and Afghan governments have sought to pursue reconciliation talks with the Taliban movement, sees the Haqqanis as a tool for protecting its interests in Afghanistan after American troops withdraw by 2014, Curtis has said.
Pakistani leaders have allowed an insurgent sanctuary in North Waziristan “due to their concerns that Pakistan will be left alone to confront an unstable, an unfriendly or an Indian-influenced Afghanistan on its borders,” an April 30 U.S. Defense Department report said.
Pakistani leaders including former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar have rejected claims of links between the Haqqanis and the country’s main military intelligence agency. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has pushed Pakistan to begin an offensive against militants in North Waziristan.
Labeling the Haqqanis is “unlikely to reverse the progress made in improving” U.S.-Pakistan ties, said Ikram Sehgal, a Karachi-based military analyst, in a phone interview today. “In Pakistan, it will be viewed as a requirement which the Obama administration has to fulfill under Congress pressure.”
Relations with the U.S. that soured sharply with the killing of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil have improved in the last two months. Pakistan reopened routes used to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan that were closed after a deadly U.S. helicopter raid on Pakistani border posts.
The U.S. had already slapped the group’s leaders with individual sanctions, and has long targeted the Haqqanis in military operations and clandestine drone strikes. Last month, Afghan and U.S. officials said a drone strike killed Badruddin Haqqani, the network’s operational commander, in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Badruddin was a son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the group’s founder.
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