Petraeus pushes for labeling Afghanistan's Haqqani network as terrorists

Published 14 July 2010

Gen. David H. Petraeus is pushing the Obama administration to have top leaders of the Haqqani network, a feared insurgent group run by an old warlord family, designated as terrorists; the group’s power lies in its deep connections to Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, which sees the Haqqani network as a way to exercise its own leverage in Afghanistan; move could add more tension to U.S.-Pakistan relations, and complicate Afghan political settlement with the Taliban

The Pakistani government’s material and political support for militant groups active in Afghanistan in killing Americans, undermining the Karzai government, and supporting the Taliban and al Qaeda is not exactly a secret, but the United States has abstained so far from making explicit charges to that effect. This diplomatic reticence may be coming to an end, as the new American military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, is pushing to have top leaders of a feared insurgent group designated as terrorists, a move that could complicate an eventual Afghan political settlement with the Taliban and aggravate political tensions in the region.

The New York Times’s Mark Landler and Thom Shanker write that General Petraeus introduced the idea of blacklisting the group, known as the Haqqani network, late last week in discussions with President Obama’s senior advisers on Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to several administration officials, who said it was being seriously considered.

Such a move could risk antagonizing Pakistan, a critical partner in the war effort, but one that is closely tied to the Haqqani network. It could also frustrate the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who is pressing to reconcile with all the insurgent groups as a way to end the nine-year-old war and consolidate his own grip on power.

Landler and Shanker write that the case of the Haqqani network, run by an old warlord family, underscores the thorny decisions that will have to be made over which Taliban-linked insurgents should win some sort of amnesty and play a role in the future of Afghanistan. Karzai has already petitioned the UN to lift sanctions against dozens of members of the Taliban, and has won conditional support from the Obama administration, so long as these people sever ties to Al Qaeda, forswear violence and accept the Afghan Constitution.

“If they are willing to accept the red lines and come in from the cold, there has to be a place for them,” Richard Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said to reporters at a briefing on Tuesday.

From its base in the frontier area near the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the network of Sirajuddin Haqqani is suspected of running much of the insurgency around Kabul, the Afghan capital, and across eastern Afghanistan, carrying out car bombings and kidnappings, including spectacular attacks on American military installations. It is allied with al Qaeda and with leaders of the Afghan Taliban branch under Mullah Muhammad Omar, now based near Quetta, Pakistan.

Landler and Shanker note that the group’s real power may lie in its deep connections to Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), which analysts say sees the Haqqani network as a way to exercise its own leverage in Afghanistan. Pakistani leaders have recently offered to broker talks between Karzai and the network, officials said, arguing that it could be a viable future partner.

American officials remain extremely skeptical that the Haqqani network’s senior leaders could ever be reconciled with the Afghan government, although they say perhaps some midlevel commanders and foot soldiers could. Some officials in Washington and in the region expressed concerns that imposing sanctions on the entire network might drive away some fighters who might be persuaded to lay down their arms.

The idea of putting the Haqqani network on a blacklist was first made public on Tuesday by Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan), who has just returned from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Levin did not disclose any conversations he might have had with General Petraeus on the subject.

The Haqqani network is perhaps the most significant threat to stability in Afghanistan, said Levin, a powerful voice in Congress on military affairs as chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Levin also advocated increasing attacks against the organization by Pakistan and by the United States, using unmanned drone strikes.

Placement on the State Department’s list would mainly impose legal limits on American citizens and companies, prohibiting trade with the Haqqani network or its leaders, and requiring that banks freeze their assets in the United States.

Levin noted that the law would also require the United States government to apply pressure on any nation harboring such a group, in this case Pakistan.

Landler and Shanker write that in testimony before Levin’s committee last month, General Petraeus said he viewed the network as a particular danger to the mission in Afghanistan.

He said he and other senior military officers had shared information with their counterparts in Pakistan that showed the Haqqani network “clearly commanded and controlled” recent attacks in Kabul and against the Bagram Air Base outside Kabul, which is controlled by the United States.

 

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