Sept. 8 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. decision to blacklist the Haqqani Network may increase tensions with Pakistan, where the militant group has bases, substantial economic activities and ties to the country’s intelligence services.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday that she’ll designate the Pakistan-based network, which has launched deadly attacks on U.S. and allied troops in neighboring Afghanistan, as a “foreign terrorist organization,” making it possible for the U.S. to sanction those who give the group financial and other support. She made the announcement the day before a deadline set by Congress for the administration to say whether the group meets the criteria for such designations.
Lawmakers also are seeking to withhold part of the administration’s requested $2.2 billion in Pakistan aid next year unless the nation steps up the fight against the Haqqanis and other militants. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is among U.S. officials who have expressed frustration with Pakistan’s failure to act. Yet nuclear-armed Pakistan is a regional ally critical to U.S. supply lines into Afghanistan and U.S. hopes for the Afghanistan’s future stability.
“From a counter-terrorism perspective, a stability perspective, this was absolutely the right thing to do,” Rick “Ozzie” Nelson, director of the Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington policy group, said in a telephone interview.
“However, we’re going to have strategic interests in the region that last for decades and to make sure those interests are met, we’re going to have to have a relationship with Pakistan,” he said. “In designating Haqqani, it puts pressure on Pakistan.”
The designation of the Haqqani Network as a foreign terrorist organization “will be met with anger by Pakistan’s senior military leadership,” said Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington policy group. That could complicate U.S. and Afghan hopes that Pakistan will facilitate reconciliation talks with the Taliban movement, to which the Haqqanis belong.
“Pakistani military leaders view the Haqqani Network as one of their greatest assets in maintaining influence in Afghanistan,” particularly against arch-rival India, Curtis said in an e-mail.
U.S. blacklisting of 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 an international conference.
In practice, the terrorist label enables the U.S. government to constrain the group’s finances by going after its fundraising channels and those doing business with the group, according to Jeffrey Dressler, who leads the Afghanistan-Pakistan project at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington policy group.
Pakistan considers the decision “an internal matter for the United States,” according to an e-mailed statement yesterday from its Washington embassy. “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.”
The organization’s leaders are Pashtuns, an ethnic group in southeastern Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan.
Pakistani leaders have let the Taliban-affiliated Haqqanis operate from Northern Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan “due to their concerns that Pakistan will be left alone to confront an unstable, an unfriendly or an Indian-influenced Afghanistan on its borders” after U.S. troops leave Afghanistan in 2014, according to an April 30 report by the U.S. Defense Department.
Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen has described the Haqqanis as a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.
Pakistani leaders including former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar have rejected that charge and said Pakistan is doing what it can against such militants.
Yet the Haqqanis have extensive economic interests inside Pakistan, as well as in Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, and possibly beyond, according to Dressler.
“The network operates or partially owns many licit businesses, such as car dealerships, within some of Pakistan’s most populous cities,” he wrote in a Sept. 5 paper. “It also owns money exchanges and construction companies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in addition to commercial and residential real-estate holdings, import-export operations, and transport businesses.”
Moreover, Dressler said, “there is plenty of evidence to suggest that many of these licit endeavors are inextricably linked with the vast economic empire of the Pakistani military industrial complex.”
Pakistan needs the Haqqani Network to counter Indian influence in the region, said CSIS’s Nelson. Arch-rival India’s size means that the only way Pakistan can check its power is asymmetrically, through the threat of its nuclear weapons or with militant groups.
“The relationship with the militant groups is incredibly important,” Nelson said, especially as leaders in Islamabad are sure the United States will eventually leave.
“From their strategic perspective, it’s more beneficial to attend to their long-term interests, and retain ties with the Haqqanis, than our short-term interests,” Nelson said. “The problem for us is those groups are undermining stability in Afghanistan and killing NATO soldiers.”
State Department officials discussing the thinking behind Clinton’s announcement yesterday, on condition of anonymity, emphasized that the decision to designate the Haqqani group isn’t targeted at any part of Pakistan’s government. Pakistani officials were told in advance of Clinton’s decision, they said.
Pakistan’s leaders have been hoping that the U.S. would eventually acquiesce to a strong Haqqani role in any future dispensation for Afghanistan, Curtis of the Heritage Foundation said. “Their mistake has been failing to use their ties with the network to moderate its behavior and to convince the Haqqani leadership to publicly break ties with al-Qaeda,” Curtis said.
‘Riding the Tiger’
Nelson said Pakistani leaders may be afraid even to try. “Pakistan is riding the tiger of militancy,” he said. “If they go in there and try to eradicate the Haqqani, which is a very lethal network, it could actually turn on the Pakistani government and they have very limited capacity to mitigate that kind of threat.”
U.S. frustrations with Pakistan have grown increasingly public as the Haqqanis have been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks on Americans in Afghanistan. In June, Panetta said that it was “an increasing concern that safe havens continue to exist” in Pakistan and the Haqqani Network is able to flee to safety after mounting attacks against Americans and allies in Afghanistan.
“We are reaching the limits of our patience here and for that reason it’s extremely important that Pakistan take action,” he said June 7 in Kabul.
Vali Nasr, a former senior adviser on Pakistan at the State Department, now the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, said “the U.S. is already treating the Haqqanis as a terrorist organization and has targeted their operations” in both Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Before yesterday’s announcement, the U.S. had slapped the group’s leaders with individual sanctions, and has targeted the Haqqanis in military operations and clandestine drone strikes.
Last month, Afghan 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, a former U.S. intelligence “asset” who fought Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
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