Although there may be some sense of rejoice within the ranks of US Congressmen after Washington’s ultimate designation of Haqqani Network as a terrorist organization but conservative US media has questioned the rationality of the declaration.
In this regard one of the analysis/commentary of The New York Times, which has significant influence within the United States Government (USG) and the country’s policymaking circles, is quite important in which the paper in a nutshell contended that the decision to designate Haqqani Network as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) would hurt the US. One cannot fully agree with the core contention of the NYT but there are several arguments within the said analysis piece which are based on realistic assessment and observation of the insurgent group.
The United States Government (USG) declared Afghan Haqqani Network as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), which has been attacking US forces and acting against Washington interests in Afghanistan. While declaring the group as terrorist organization the US State Department announced that the Haqqani Network meets the statutory criteria set for a Foreign Terrorist Organization under the existing laws.
The most important cost of labelling Afghan Haqqani Network as a Foreign Terrorist Organization to which the NYT pointed is that it would make comprehensive settlement of Afghan conflict harder to achieve. In other words the paper wanted to convey that as the group is one of the most important insurgent networks, therefore, by blacklisting it the US has closed the doors of future negotiations with the group. And a lasting solution to the Afghan conflict is not possible without talking to the Haqqani Network leadership. We analyzed this before the New York Times when this writer wrote on this website in a commentary ‘HAQQANI NETWORK AS TERRORIST BODY’: 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. On the other hand the NYT wrote “To brand group a foreign terrorist organisation is not only a firm declaration that it is an enemy; it also limits America’s future political options…listing the Haqqanis as an F.T.O. now will deter them from coming to the negotiating table.”
However, the NYT by arguing that blacklisting Haqqani Network by the US would be seen as a sign of American insincerity by Taliban is a wrong argument. Because Afghan Taliban and Afghan Haqqani Network although apparently and avowedly are the same but practically they are different organizations with different operational strategies and aims. Keeping of a separate entity and identity by the Haqqani Network despite associating itself with the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar is aimed at maintaining 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. Because Haqqani Network is a relatively small organization than the Afghan Taliban; the extended Haqqani family has been in full control of the group; in case 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. But the US could not look at the Haqqani Network from this standpoint. This subsequently NYT also pointed at this weakness of American strategists’ evaluation of the Haqqani Network. It may be mentioned that we wrote a couple of weeks back, “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.” In the words of NYT “US designated the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network a foreign terrorist organization, placing it alongside Hamas and al-Qaeda. But to what end?”
The NYT in its said analysis mentioned that between 2002 and 2004 some senior Taliban leaders sought reconciliation and cooperation with the Afghan government and the international community but the negative responses the Taliban got from the World left a little room but to pursue the path of resistance. This is a realistic argument because the US compelled to de-list a number of Afghan Taliban commanders from the list of international terrorist as a to initiate talks with Afghan Taliban last year, which led to the establishment of a political office by the group in Qatar last year to facilitate talks with the Americans. Had the pleas of reconciliation from certain Taliban commanders had been heeded to earlier some settlement to the Afghan imbroglio could have been found by now; at least the insurgency would not be so rampaging as it is now.
However, in the final analysis we still, unlike NYT, argue that Designating Haqqani Network as a terrorist outfit may impact the stalled talks between Afghan Taliban and the US. However, at the same time designating Haqqani Network as a foreign terrorist organization may catalyze the process of negotiations between Taliban and Americans. However, this would depend on extraneous factors which the US and Taliban may not be able to control.
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. Now the question arises that why the US then designated the network as FTO. One reason we mentioned in an earlier commentary was pressure from the US Congress. However a deeper look into the decision in the context of relevant unfolding events and developments reveals that the designation has links to the upcoming US elections in November and US deteriorating relations with Pakistan.
It is a fact that the Afghan war is an unpopular war in America and the reason for this is the large number of casualties of US troops which has now exceeded what the country suffered during the equally unpopular Vietnam War as well as the financial burden it has put on the US Federal Reserves. As President Barrack Obama, who is also Democratic Party presidential candidate, has nothing big to offer to the US masses, it needs to show some successes on the Afghan War front to Americans. Obviously the killing of Al Qaeda founder, Osama bin Laden, last year in Pakistan by US Navy Seals is the biggest success he can sold to US citizens. However, killing Laden is far short of winning war in Afghanistan. Therefore, it has ultimately decided to declare Haqqanis as terrorists. There could be two aims of this. The one is to show to the Americans that the group which has launched deadliest attacks against the US forces in Afghanistan has been taken to task. Simultaneously it might also be aimed at pressurizing the group to come to the negotiating table for fear of US wrath. At the same time the US also wants Pakistan to either give up support to the Haqqani Network or bring it to the negotiating table. But all these aims of the US focus on Obama’s election campaign.
(The writer is a political analyst and researcher: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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