TWICE IN the past year, the Pakistan-based Haqqani network has launched attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and the nearby headquarters of the U.S.-led military coalition. It bombed India’s embassy and staged multiple assaults against hotels known for hosting U.S. nationals. It tried to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai. It has close ties with al-Qaeda. As recently as Saturday, it detonated a truck bombnear a bazaar outside a U.S. base, killing at least a dozen civilians and wounding scores more.
The Obama administration is nevertheless having trouble deciding whether the Haqqani group should be designated as a foreign terrorist organization under State Department guidelines, which would pave the way for tough financial sanctions. That an internal debate reportedly goes on just days before a congressionally mandated Sept. 9 deadline for a decision is another reflection of the incoherence of U.S. policy toward both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
On its face, the designation looks like a no-brainer: The Haqqanis practice terrorism; they target the United States and its allies; and they are allied with other international terrorists. The group is considerably more dangerous to the United States than is most of the nearly 50 other organizations on the State Department list.
According to reporting by The Post’s Karen DeYoung, opponents of the designation at the White House and elsewhere in the administration point out that several Haqqani leaders are already designated as terrorists. They say the move might offend military and intelligence officials in Pakistan, who regard the organization as a vehicle for influence in Afghanistan and who only recently agreed to patch a fractured relationship with Washington. Perhaps most important, there is concern that the designation might obstruct possible peace negotiations with the Taliban, of which the Haqqani network is a branch.
The first objection may be the weakest: A designation of the entire terrorist network has clear advantages over listing individuals. It would allow authorities to target the extensive business and banking networks associated with the Haqqanis, as well as anyone who traffics with them. The network controls real estate, construction firms and even car dealerships in Pakistan and around the region that could be squeezed, and it has wealthy contributors in countries such as Saudi Arabia.
The rest of the administration’s debate borders on the surreal. Last month, after all, the CIA targeted and killed the third-ranking Haqqani leader, Badruddin Haqqani, in a drone strike, and Washington continues to press Pakistani leaders to launch a military offensive against the group’s home base in North Waziristan. Yet officials in Washington worry that a bureaucratic decision by the State Department, as opposed to such military action, would derail peace talks or U.S.-Pakistani relations? As Pakistani officials frequently point out, the real problem is that the Obama administration can’t decide whether it seeks to destroy or reconcile with the Haqqanis.
In fact, reconciliation is not a serious option. The Haqqanis demand control over three of Afghanistan’s eastern provinces, which would make a stable government in Kabul impossible and provide a ready haven for other terrorist groups. The network’s alliance with Pakistan is a manifestation of Islamabad’s unacceptable ambition to establish suzerainty over Afghanistan. If there is to be a stable Afghan peace, and a Pakistan that can be an ally of the United States, the Haqqani network must be defeated and dismantled. Designation as a terrorist organization by the State Department would be one positive step in that direction.