ISLAMABAD: Far from the hostile public position against the Haqqani network, the United States is eager to seek rapprochement with the group blamed for most of the deadliest attacks against the US-led Nato troops in Afghanistan.
Washington is willing not only to engage the group in talks but also to give it an important role in the future political dispensation of Afghanistan, according to a senior American military official.
He said the United States would hand over the control of three Afghan provinces to the Haqqanis if they agreed to withdraw their support for the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan.
The official spoke to The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the subject publicly.
Led by the aging warlord, Jalaluddin Haqqani, and his son Sirajuddin Haqqani, the network has a stronghold in Paktia, Paktika and Khost provinces. But, the group also has foot soldiers – believed to be in thousands – in many parts of the war-ravaged country.
The Haqqani network is accused of orchestrating some of the most spectacular attacks on US-led Nato forces in Afghanistan and is also credited with introducing suicide bombings as a major tactic of their asymmetric warfare.
“Neither the Americans nor Pakistanis can completely defeat the Haqqani network,” explained the American military official, citing the reason behind America’s willingness for peace talks with the group.
“We are ready for talks – but the problem is that the Haqqanis are really not forthcoming,” he added. “Therefore, we have no option but to use force against them.”
This is not the first time Washington showed its willingness to cut a deal with the Haqqanis. The group, though originally was not part of the Taliban, joined the ultraorthodox militia after it took over Kabul in 1996.
Following the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001, the United States had offered Jalaluddin Haqqani top positions – but he opted to fight them. The Haqqanis are considered crucial for the success of the Taliban insurgency.
The top US military official acknowledged that the Haqqani network was posing a real threat to the Nato/Isaf mission in Afghanistan. “The Taliban use IEDs but the Haqqanis have the ability and capability to cause the maximum damage to the foreign forces in Afghanistan,” he said.
Unlike the public position, the US official candidly admitted that Pakistan’s reluctance to go after the Haqqani network was linked to its fear of a strong backlash and not necessarily because it considers the group as its proxy.
“Pakistan can hurt the Haqqanis but General (Ashfaq Parvez) Kayani is reluctant to target them because he is worried about reprisal attacks,” he said.
When asked, the American official said that irrespective of the consequences, the US would want Pakistan to take a decisive action against the Haqqanis.
“Our objective is very clear that we want to dismantle the ability of the Haqqanis to target foreign forces in Afghanistan. If this can be done by bringing them to the negotiating table, we won’t mind that,” he said.
For years, the US has been pushing Pakistan to eliminate the ‘sanctuaries’ of the Haqqani network from the North Waziristan tribal region.
Recently, Gen Kayani indicated that Pakistan might launch an offensive in North Waziristan but insisted that such an operation would not be carried out at the behest of any outside power.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2012.
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