Eventually the United States (US) has crossed the Rubicon regarding the ferocious Afghan insurgent group, the Haqqani Network, by designating it as a foreign terrorist organization. This indeed is a significant development and would have its positive and negative ramifications.
The declaration of Haqqani Network as a terrorist organization was expected after the last month’s resolution passed by the US Congress requiring Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to either designate the Haqqani Network a FTO or submit a report highlighting the reasons and criteria for not declaring so. As President Obama has already signed the resolution passed by the US Congress, Ms Clinton only had 30 days to respond.
It is important to note that despite of Washington’s long list of complaints against the group it has desisted from taking stringent measures against it. The US did not take any decisive step to mop up the threat because it knew that the group role in overall Afghan resistance against it and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was profoundly significant. Therefore, if any strict action would be taken against the group it would be at the cost of foreclosing the possibility of any dialogue with it. However, this strategy seems to have been changed.
Obama-administration would have still lingered with the final decision to declare Afghan Haqqani Network as a foreign terrorist organization but it was the pressure from the US Congress which compelled it to act decisively. However, for the US Congress there were several reasons to pressure the US Government for declaring the group as a terrorist organization at the earliest. The foremost cause were the several large-scale attacks from the group on US personnel and installations in Afghanistan including the September 2011 attacks on US embassy and NATO headquarter in Kabul. All these attacks the USG blamed on Haqqani Network but strangely despite of that it did not designate it as terrorist organization. According to the US State Department it earlier had told the US Congress that it was proceeding with caution regarding deciding the status of the group because of US-Taliban talks.
One opinion regarding this strategy of the USG regarding the Haqqani Network was that the patron of the group Jalaluddin Haqqani, who was also an anti-Soviet Afghan Mujahideen resistance commander way back in 1980s. As the resistance was basically sponsored by the US Central Intelligence Agency and Jalaluddin was then so close to the US that he visited the US and even met the then US President late Ronald Regan. Therefore, according to this school of thought USG considered that Jalaluddin and his son Sirajuddin Haqqani, who runs the Haqqani Network, could be talked to and engaged purposefully. But at the same time there has not been any serious effort on part of the US interlocutors to engage Haqqanis. Perhaps this was due to the reason that Washington first wanted to soften the Haqqanis through repeated drone attacks and crush its will to fight; but US has failed on this front as Haqqanis are still very resilient.
Here it is important to note that the Haqqani Network although associates itself with the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar and argue that the latter is its supreme leader but still it maintains its separate entity and identity. This may be due to its strategy to keep itself open to any future talks and bargaining with the US. Because bargaining of Haqqanis with the US could be far easier than with the Afghan Taliban. There are various reasons for that. The foremost is that Haqqani Network is a relatively small organization than the Afghan Taliban. For a small organization evolving consensus within its ranks to negotiate with the enemy is relatively easier than a large organization. Secondly, the extended Haqqani family has been in full control of the group; therefore, it has been easier for it to negotiate with the Americans. On the other hand Afghan Taliban although commanded by reclusive Mulla Omar have multiple personalities who have to be reconciled to the idea of negotiating with the US and allies. This has been one key reason that first Taliban leadership could not be brought to the negotiating table for almost a decade and on the other hand the Qatar process of talks between Taliban and Americans, which only started last year, got stalled largely due to unclear agenda of the Afghan Taliban. Thirdly, if Afghan Taliban could not agree to negotiations with the US and allies than Haqqani Network hope to present itself as the alternative insurgent group with which the latter could talk for a meaningful end to the Afghan insurgency and future political dispensation in Afghanistan. However, the Americans could not fully assess and calibrate the status and potential of the Haqqani Network and this has been evident from their confused strategy regarding the group.
Now after the US has designated the Haqqani Network as a terrorist outfit it has foreclosed any possibility of negotiations with the group at least in the foreseeable future. This is really tragic. The immediate consequences of this development would be more attacks on the US soldiers and installations in Afghanistan and increased drone attacks. Reportedly, senior unnamed member of Haqqani Network has vowed to divert 80 percent of the group’s attacks towards the US forces and their installations if the US Congress approved the bill of designating the network as a terrorist outfit.
Although the group has argued that designating it as a terrorist outfit would not affect the group at all, however, the panic which has been shown by the group suggests that the move has its impact.
For Pakistan the development is a serious concern as Islamabad’s relationship with the Haqqani Network is well-known. However, whatever the nature of relationship of Pakistan may have had with the group thenceforth any overt or covert relationship of Islamabad with it would have negative consequences for the latter. Already certain quarters in Islamabad and Washington have started forecasting that designating Haqqani Network as a terrorist organization is the beginning of the process of declaring Pakistan as a state sponsoring terrorism. One thinks this is an extremely negative portrayal. Still onwards Washington would assess the relationship between Islamabad and Haqqanis and only on the basis of such assessment would chart its future policy regarding Pakistan.
In its reaction to Washington’s designating Haqqani Network as a FTO, Pakistan’s embassy in Washington said, “It’s not our business. The Haqqanis are not Pakistani nationals, and we will continue to work with all international partners including the US in combating extremism and terrorism.” Although this is a good diplomatic position to take but the problem is that the Haqqani Network has been largely known to be operating out of North Waziristan, therefore, it is Pakistan’s business to deal with the situation as only issuing such statements may not work.
(The writer is a political analyst and researcher: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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