This thorny issue has prompted debate among administration officials, with opponents reportedly arguing that the Haqqanis are merely local troublemakers and that a designation would harm U.S.-Pakistani ties, foil Taliban reconciliation efforts and have little effect on the group anyway.
Here is why these arguments are unfounded:
The Haqqanis are widely recognized to be the most ruthless faction of the insurgency, responsible for launching high-profile attacks against U.S. installations and other targets across Afghanistan. The NATO coalition holds the Haqqanis responsible for an attack Sept. 1that killed 12 and injured 59 in Wardak province. Since 2008, their shock troops have struck the U.S. and Indian embassies in Kabul, hotels and restaurants in the Afghan capital, and the headquarters of the NATO-led international force. Intercepts made public last year featured the group’s operations manager live-guiding an assault on a Kabul hotel that killed 13 people.
It’s true that, on their own, the Haqqanis are unlikely to carry out an attack on the U.S. homeland. Those of us who have closely studied the group, however, believe the Haqqanis will continue to host and facilitate extremists in their area, as they have done without interruption since the 1980s. They maintain close ties to al-Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban and other globally focused extremist groups, sharing safe houses and collaborating closely on the wide range of criminal activities in which they engage.
In other words, if the White House is serious about stopping al-Qaeda and other like-minded militant groups, leaving the Haqqanis in place after 2014 is not an option. The Haqqanis provide safe haven to groups plotting to attack the U.S. homeland and are terrorists in their own right.
Even as they acknowledge the Haqqanis’ brutality, some analysts suggest that designating them terrorists could further harm Washington’s delicate relationship with Pakistan by implicating Islamabad as a state sponsor of terrorism.
But the United States has already designated Lashkar-e-Taiba, another Pakistani militant group with long-standing ties to that country’s intelligence services, and the designation has had little impact on the weak relationship between Washington and Islamabad.
What’s more, Pakistani civilian and military officials have signaled that a Haqqani designation would not ruffle feathers in Islamabad.
Then there is the question of whether the terrorist designation would have a concrete effect on the Haqqanis. It could, if properly supported.