Analysis: Netting Pakistan via Haqqani network?

Published: September 8, 2012
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American diplomats say there is no connection between the timing of the designation and Pakistan’s engagements with India. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

American diplomats say there is no connection between the timing of the designation and Pakistan’s engagements with India. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

The timing is interesting. The Indian external affairs minister, with a small army of Indian reporters and staff, is in Pakistan on what has been a rather lacklustre but still a critical trip.

And even though the US secretary of state is on a foreign tour herself, not in the saddle in Washington (and more importantly, was a full three days short of breaching the September 9 deadline set by the US Senate to either explain why the Haqqani network shouldn’t be labelled an ‘foreign terrorist organisation’ (FTO), versus actually doing it), American diplomats say there is no connection between the timing of the designation and Pakistan’s engagements with India.

But that means: a) that she obviously she doesn’t care much about the sensitivity of Indo-Pak bilateralism which could get thorny because the Haqqanis, allegedly based in North Waziristan, are widely blamed for an infamous attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008 and b) she doesn’t work weekends, which is disturbing for the world’s most powerful diplomat.

Moving on.

What’s in a Network?

The Haqqani Network is supposed to be aligned with the Taliban and al Qaeda and is considered one of the most experienced and versatile militant groups involved in the Afghan insurgency. The network is, literally, a bit like a crime family. Lots of cousins and uncles dominate the top tiers of leadership, specialising in different roles, skills, regions and formations.

Some of its leaders have been already been placed terror watchlists by the Americans, which allows US to target the Haqqanis’ finances. But the Haqqanis have not been neutralised, and have become one of the core issues of the argument between Islamabad and Washington over the endgame in Afghanistan.

When the Pakistanis are blamed for “hedging” in Afghanistan, their dark horse is the Haqqani network. When there is an unusually bold attack, like the September 2011 assault on the US embassy in Kabul, it’s because the Haqqanis are a “veritable arm” of the ISI. So goes the American perspective. And it’s been battled by the likes of Hina Rabbani Khar, the young Pakistani foreign minister, who made her bones, and headlines, with a crunching reaction to Admiral (retd.) Mike Mullen’s anti-Pakistan swansong to the US Congress last fall: that once upon a time in Afghanistan, at a time when jihad was a good word, the Haqqanis used to be the CIA’s “blue-eyed boys”.

Why the designation?

The FTO designation just gives the sophisticated American legal, legislative and war machine more to teeth to take a bigger bite out of the network and its affiliates. But a new backgrounder published by the Washington-based Institute of the Study of War says Pakistan, too, could be a part of punishment that is to proceed: “The FTO designation will also allow the US government to pursue facilitators of the network, including preventing second- and third-party institutions … Labelling the Haqqani Network as an FTO also messages Pakistan’s military leadership that continued support for and tolerance of Haqqani Network operations is no longer acceptable to the US.”

This is where Islamabad needs to watch its back. There have already been calls by the Bruce Reidels of Washington to slam sanctions against the ISI, and/or even its officers, as Aabpara allegedly works outside of the control of the government and even Chaklala. By being able to pursue “second and third-party institutions” through the FTO, the US gets in a better position to target the ISI, or, for that matter, any formation in the Pakistani military or any other business or enterprise in Pakistan that can be connected with the Haqqanis.

What happens now?

In the short run, nothing. Pakistan is adopting a cool wait-and-see stance by distancing itself from the designation. If the Americans are good at using technicalities to build pressure, then Pakistan’s foreign ministry seems to be getting smoother at avoiding it: “The US govt decision to designate the Haqqani Network a terrorist organisation is an internal matter for the US. The Haqqanis are not Pakistani nationals and therefore there is (sic) no grounds for us to be involved.”

Islamabad (and Rawalpindi) has long been accused of sheltering and abetting the Haqqanis. Consequently, the MOFA, ISPR et al have gotten very good at saying “prove it”. Now, they’re going a step further. The Haqqanis are an American and an Afghan problem. Brilliant. But the American legislative net will eventually catch up through the wide seek-and-sanction effect of the FTO.

The foreign office will be able to backstop and goalkeep for Chaklala and Aabpara in the short-run with this approach. But not against a sustained diplomatic and economic assault.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (16)

  • kaalchakra
    Sep 8, 2012 - 8:07AM

    I have been saying it consistently – this is a most serious assault on Pakistan’s core interests and long-term regional abilities. The entire nation must hunker down and carefully construct an effective response. Intellectual, public, diplomatic, military, and international resources must be activated to protect and sustain the asset under threat. It can renamed, dispersed, and re-arranged. It’s capabilities must be reconfigured and the public must be brought behind the investment needed to do so.

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  • Tango
    Sep 8, 2012 - 8:50AM

    How would it be if one considers it as Obama administration’s election campaign need!

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  • Polpot
    Sep 8, 2012 - 8:58AM

    Pakistani credibility re the Haqqanis has already been established by Pakistani credibility re the prolonged stay of OBL . So ‘prove it’ doesn’t cut any ice.
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    And the timing of the declaration…is already many years too late.

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  • Polpot
    Sep 8, 2012 - 9:18AM

    ‘” The Haqqanis are an American and an Afghan problem. ”
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Allegedly based in North Waziristan and safe houses all over Pakistan.

    So allegedly the FTO label will also affect Pakistan and hence the protestations from pakistani quarters.

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  • stating the obvious
    Sep 8, 2012 - 9:20AM

    The timing is interesting

    With Pakistan courting the dragon by leasing land from Gilgit to Gwador even after receiving $20 billion American aid , Uncle Sam had to knock some sense.

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  • Sep 8, 2012 - 9:42AM

    The diplomatic war has and will become a game of wits and words. The economic war is what we have to be careful.

    The easing of visa restrictions with India is a good change but will the Baluchistan and KP bombings, Shia killings all over and target killings in Karachi see an increase? With Gwadar Port being given to China, the army chief visiting Russia and President Putin’s expected visit bespeak of a new regional scenario in the making. Interesting.

    Salams

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  • Cautious
    Sep 8, 2012 - 10:47AM

    Rubbish — has it ever dawned on anyone that the USA doesn’t need to use the Haqqani to leverage/punish Pakistan? The USA doesn’t need a ruling against the Haqqani to stop buying Pakistani products. use it’s influence to stop international financing, or a host of other punitive measures.

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  • Polpot
    Sep 8, 2012 - 10:48AM

    @kaalchakra: “this is a most serious assault on Pakistan’s core interests and long-term regional abilities.”
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Lets stop the GLOCs….the Nato supplies to Kabul…what say?

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  • J. I
    Sep 8, 2012 - 10:53AM

    Funny isn’t it! First they ‘coined’ the term ‘Haqqani Network’ (and Quetta Shura – next in line), then drummed the propaganda beats over their association with Pakistan and now banned it for their loyal global audiences – all the effort just to malign 200 million people. Goebels must be having a devilish smirk at US administration somewhere! ;-)

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  • C. Nandkishore
    Sep 8, 2012 - 3:10PM

    The noose is tightening. Come 2014 and the stool below the feet will be kicked off.

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  • M. Adil
    Sep 8, 2012 - 3:14PM

    We are rubbishing the Americans claims against the Haqqanis at our own risk. A few years down the line, we”ll be announcing to the world just how dangerous this group is to the country’s existence – just like we did with the Taliban and Al Quaida etc. When will we ever learn?

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  • Dr.A.K.Tewari
    Sep 8, 2012 - 4:45PM

    The game of wits and words is clearly visible but seems to be leading in a common goal world community . There exist several formations on both side but the network being targetted can only deminished if we consistantly knock the devil’s door for anout next two years . Peace is the goal to be achieved at any cost , should be the final outcome of any formation .

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  • G. Din
    Sep 8, 2012 - 4:53PM

    @J. I:
    My first reaction to your post was: “Show some loyalty, for crying out loud. They have been doing your dirty work, after all.”
    But then I was reminded of your duplicity, double-crosses, double-dealings, false promises, breaches of trust and faith towards those who had for the last 65 years supported you and even now are supporting you. Who can expect loyalty of such “veteran turncoats”? Wait, you did not even think twice before abandoning your own “Bihari” citizens in Bangladesh certain to be butchered because they had stood by your side (the fact that they still live is a tribute to humanity of Bangladeshis).
    Sir, you are a “class” by yourself!

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  • Ayaz
    Sep 8, 2012 - 5:32PM

    CIA Give check to ISI to prevent the King. Now is the ISI turn how to Move.

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  • Dr.A.K.Tewari
    Sep 8, 2012 - 8:36PM

    Aiyaz , its not a game ,It’s WAR . Mind it . One has to loose . Now the game should be over . Let the one sided war continue against non state acters without any resistance for the required period .Recommend

  • Sep 8, 2012 - 9:31PM

    This torpedo is being prepared for launch alright, but will be launched at an appropriate time.

    This is very similar to the Pressler Amendment. It came into effect, as soon as the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and was invoked when Americans did not need Pakistan.

    But, this is much more serious and long term with disastrous consequences for Pakistan. Pressler Amendment was harsh was it will look like a mosquito bite when compared to the full-fledged sanctions, similar to the one America has slapped on Iran.

    The time to enforce this will come. After 2014, when the NATO forces withdraw, when the leverage of supply routes disappears, that time will be ripe for invoking such sanctions.

    Quite frankly I am looking forward to it for purely academic interests. Many Pakistanis have contended that Pakistan is somehow more immune to sanctions than, say, Iran who is willing to negotiate after sanctions were placed.

    It will be interesting at what time after the sanctions are placed Pakistanis realise that they were living in cuckoo land all this time and realise that taking on a Super Power has its consequences.

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