Blacklisting the Haqqani network: One step forward, two steps back?

General David Petraeus recently broached the idea of blacklisting the Haqqani group. This move, if implemented has the potential of being an affront to Islamabad. The idea of labelling the Haqqani network as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) is intended to challenge the group’s links with Al-Qaeda. Coupled with General Petraeus’s message to Pakistan to “do more” [in tackling terrorism], the bold move of blacklisting the Haqqanis will clearly not win Pakistan’s support. The Haqqani network is one of the strongest insurgent networks and stands as a formidable antagonist of the U.S, NATO Coalition forces in the Af-Pak region. The long standing connections of the Haqqanis with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), its redoubtable equation with Al-Qaeda and its high degree of influence in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) makes it a hard nut to crack.

The Haqqani network dates back to the Russo-Afghan war in the 1980s when Jalaluddin Haqqani, an influential mujahid established his base in Miram Shah, which ultimately became the foundation of the present Haqqani network. It was during this period that the network closely worked with the Al-Qaeda, ISI, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and influential mujahideens hailing from the Arab states including, Osama bin Laden. The thirty year old network continues to remain one of the most influential forces dominating the agency of North Waziristan. The present leadership of the network is held by Jalaluddin’s son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who directs the network’s operations against the U.S. and NATO forces in Af-Pak region.

Reports reveal that Islamabad was allegedly involved in brokering a deal (as a part of the reconciliation process) between the Haqqani network and Kabul. This illustrates the degree of importance the group holds in Pakistan’s Af-Pak strategy and the bigger picture of Afghanistan’s move towards stability. Pakistan has persistently resisted the idea of dismantling the Haqqani network purely because it views the network as a strategic asset to promote Islamabad’s interest in the region.

The relationship of the Haqqanis with the ISI, Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda is a complex one. The anti-Soviet war resulted in a strong bonding between Jalaluddin Haqqani and the Arab fighters. A major portion of the Haqqani network’s funding originates from the Persian Gulf owing to the relation the network continues to enjoy with the Arab fighters. Furthermore, they are also tied to other foreign groups like the Uzbek Islamic Jihad Union. Primarily, Al-Qaeda assists the Haqqani network in facilitating attacks (includes field and weapon training, funding, arms procurement) and provides them with suicide bombers. While their equation has enjoyed a consistent high, Haqqani’s alliance with the Pakistani government has been a point of contention. Al-Qaeda views Pakistan as an enemy, a sentiment that has been further exacerbated by the drone attacks.

The relations of the Haqqanis with the ISI, like their origin, dates back to the Afghan-Russo war when Jalaluddin was assisted by the ISI and CIA in the anti-Soviet insurgent operations. Islamabad continues to employ this group to promote its interests in Afghanistan. Reportedly, the 2008 car bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul was a joint operation between the ISI and the Haqqani network. Consequently, while there are reports of a certain degree of disenchantment on the part of the Haqqani network vis-à-vis the al-Qaeda, one would do well to consider within the complex nature of the relationship between the two groups, rather than take them at face value.

With so many complexities at play, the idea of blacklisting the network may not reap many benefits for the U.S. On the other hand, it is bound to impede President Karzai’s already failing efforts to conciliate the Afghan insurgents. While the reconciliation process has been supported in the Obama administration by many, declaring the Haqqanis as a FTO will obstruct the progression. Moreover, the intention that such a move will strain the relations between the Haqqani network and Al-Qaeda may well backlash. In view of Haqqani’s reliance on Al-Qaeda and their long standing history, this step could fortify their bond and their joint efforts could be galvanised towards increasing the number of attacks on the U.S. and NATO forces. It is also believed that blacklisting may drive away numerous mujahideen fighters who wished to surrender and reconcile with the government forces.

The blacklisting of the network is also projected to affect their funding routes by freezing their bank accounts and trade relations abroad. However, the announcement of the “idea” of blacklisting the Haqqanis would provide them enough time to consolidate their funds and withdraw them from the accounts that may end up being the target of U.S. policies. Therefore, the time spent by the US mulling on a course of action will prove beneficial to the Haqqani network and will be used to take all measures to minimise the effects of blacklisting. In addition, the process of declaring groups as FTOs is not a new practice but has been followed by the U.S. and Pakistani government for a long time. Unfortunately, the groups re-emerge with different names and modified front organisations. This trend can be traced in Pakistan, where banned groups like Jamaat-ud Dawa and Markaz Dawat wa’l-Irshad continue to function under a new name with impunity.

Therefore, it may be discerned that General Petraeus’s announcement about considering the blacklisting of the Haqqani network may be a move to warn Islamabad and the Haqqani leadership about a harsher outlook towards terrorism in the region. Rather than antagonising the Pakistani government by implementing such a move, the idea may be spilled over to reprove them, with the hope that Islamabad may understand the message and ‘get its act together’.


Aditi Malhotra

Date: 29/07/2010

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