September 12, 2012

TSG IntelBrief: Will the Haqqani Network’s Blacklisting Harm U.S.-Pakistan Relations?

As of mid-September 2012, the Haqqani Network (HQN), the insurgent group founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani, is identified as the most violent and dangerous of those battling the Afghan government and its NATO supporters. The group's leadership operates from bases in North Waziristan, a Pakistani tribal agency abutting eastern Afghanistan where the Pashtun-based Haqqanis find their historical base. Major attacks launched by the group have killed numerous civilians in Afghanistan, including Americans. The high-visibility attacks on U.S. targets have included a deadly, day-long September 2011 assault on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.


The Haqqani Threat 

Jalaluddin made a name for himself battling Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s, when his forces received major support from Pakistani and U.S. intelligence agencies. After serving in the Taliban government in the late 1990s, he and his family (which includes his top lieutenants) found refuge in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region following the U.S.-led invasion ousting that regime. Today, his sons Sirajuddin and Nasiruddin, and brother Ibrahim, are identified as key leaders of the network's several hundred core cadres and 2,000-4,000 affiliated militants. (Note: Son Badruddin was reported killed in a U.S.-launched drone strike in August 2012.)   Over the years the HQN has fostered close ties with a variety of groups sharing a commitment to a global jihadist ideology. These include al Qaeda, Uzbek militants, and perhaps even anti-India groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Pakistan-based group designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in late 2001 and responsible for the 2008 attack on Mumbai, India. Although the Haqqanis have pledged fealty to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, they operate largely independently of Omar's Quetta Shura.   Despite such linkages, the Haqqanis are widely believed to be motivated more by greed than by ideology; many analysts call them an organized crime syndicate. Financial tentacles are said to be extensive, with licit and illicit business interests in the Persian Gulf, as well as in Pakistan. Profit is also generated through kidnaping and extortion. Suspicions that the HQN is tied to Pakistan's military-industrial complex arise naturally from observations that it acts as a proxy for the Pakistani military in Afghanistan.


Potential Problems with FTO Designation

Mid-2011 saw insurgents launch a series of deadly and high-visibility attacks in Afghanistan. American commanders identified the HQN as the primary culprit, and interested parties in the U.S. Congress began asking more insistently why the group was not formally designated as terrorists, given their targeting of civilians.

The outgoing Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff subsequently told Congress that the HQN should be considered a proxy force of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Pakistan's history of actively supporting Afghan Pashtun militants included propping up the Taliban regime during the late 1990s, but was supposed to have ended after 9/11 and Islamabad's enlistment as a U.S. ally in the "war on terror." Still, suspicions that the ISI continued to view the Haqqanis as "strategic assets" on its western frontier persisted throughout the past decade.

And there's the rub: For the 11 years that U.S. forces have been fighting in Afghanistan, Washington has felt compelled to abide Pakistani "sensitivities" in the region. Through a narrative about its need for "strategic depth" in Afghanistan, Islamabad has materially supported ethnic Pashtun militant groups along its western border as a means of keeping the Indians and their Afghan Uzbek and Tajik allies at bay. The veracity of this policy's underpinnings are dubious, but Pakistan is a nuclear weapons power with a 500,000-man army that controls the key ground lines of communication into landlocked Afghanistan.

As NATO commanders in Afghanistan pointed over mountains at Taliban safe havens inside Pakistan, the Pakistani military took only sporadic half-measures against militants based in its western tribal areas. Within this region, North Waziristan is "the last safe haven" — the one of seven left almost completely untouched by the writ of the Pakistani state. Obama Administration officials have for years cajoled the Pakistani brass to send their forces on the offense against the HQN, but to no avail. Protestations that the Pakistani military is stretched too thinly may be true, but are preceded by another more compelling Pakistani motive to preserve what officials there likely view as an asset that will strengthen Islamabad's hand as the Afghan endgame proceeds. There have thus been significant concerns among U.S. officials that blacklisting the Haqqanis would further strain an already fraught relationship between Washington and Islamabad, as well as complicate U.S. efforts toward Afghan reconciliation.


Congressional Pressure Forces the AdminIstration's Hand

In September 2011, U.S. congressional leaders began calling for the HQN to be designated as an FTO. Seven key HQN leaders had been under U.S. sanctions since 2008 and Administration officials suggested that sanctioning individuals was sufficient for U.S. interests. Intelligence committee chairs nonetheless began ramping up pressure. The Haqqani Network Terrorist Designation Act of 2011was passed out of the Senate in December, but was not taken up by the House. Yet a new version of the legislation was passed by both chambers, and signed into law by the President, in August 2012. The law gave the State Department 30 days to report back on whether the HQN met the criteria for FTO designation.

On September 7, Secretary Clinton reported to Congress that the HQN did indeed meet the criteria for FTO designation and would imminently receive it. Pakistan's Washington Embassy issued a statement calling the decision an internal matter for the U.S. government and noting that the Haqqanis are not Pakistani nationals.


Fallout for Washington-Islamabad Relations?

In a briefing on the State Department action, a senior Administration official opined that the U.S.-Pakistan relationship "is going on the right trajectory," and that the decision to designate should not affect Afghan reconciliation efforts. Pressed on whether the action brought Pakistan a step closer to being designated as a state sponsor of terrorism (given suspicions about ISI-HQN links), this official emphasized that only the HQN was being targeted, not any Pakistani government agency, meaning that there was no relationship between an FTO designation and a state sponsorship one.

NATO officials may be more hopeful that the new pressure will spur the Pakistani military to finally undertake "kinetics" against the HQN in North Waziristan, but, after years of implied promises, no one should be holding their breath pending Pakistani action. August saw a spate of media speculation that the long-awaited military operation was not only imminent, but would be undertaken as a "joint operation" with U.S.-led forces. Islamabad quickly rejected the notion of "joint operations" and stated only that "coordinated action" would continue as it had been for several years. For now, it is clear that NATO and Pakistani forces will be staying on their respective sides of the Durand Line.



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