- The Washington Times - Friday, July 16, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Shouldn’t terrorist groups be called terrorist groups? This question is at the center of a new dispute over the future course of the effort in Afghanistan. Pakistan has been promoting dialogue between the Afghan government and some of the most militant extremist groups; the United States would rather see the terrorists defeated.

Among the radical groups in question are the Haqqani network, a clan-based group centered in North Waziristan on Pakistan’s tribal frontier with Afghanistan, and the Quetta Shura, which comprises the leadership of the Afghan Taliban. Both are alleged to have strong ties to Pakistan’s intelligence service, and both are actively waging war inside Afghanistan against the Kabul government and coalition forces. In no uncertain terms, they are the enemy.

International Security Assistance Force commander Gen. David H. Petreaus reportedly recommended that the Haqqani network be placed on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTO), and Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, recommended the same status for the Quetta Shura. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan - the main Pakistani Taliban umbrella organization that claimed to sponsor Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad - is another good candidate. Branding these groups as FTOs would expand the legal options for combating them and those who give them financial and other forms of support. It also would bring them more closely into the target group for direct attacks, such as with unmanned drones and special-operations forces. Given that the coalition is already in open conflict with these terrorists, it makes sense to let them join the various incarnations of al Qaeda on the government’s hit list.

This move may cause problems for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has been making diplomatic overtures to various militants. It will be harder for him to build bridges with groups the United States is seeking to destroy. However, there is enough ambiguity in the politics of that region to believe that this would simply be a complication for the Afghan leader, not a deal breaker. It will give the two sides more common ground: Mr. Karzai and the militants can grouse at their meetings about the impractical Americans and their insistence on old-fashioned concepts like “winning.”

Ramping up the pressure on the most extreme of the extremists sends a message to Mr. Karzai about what America considers an acceptable bargain for stability in Afghanistan. The metric of success cannot be peace at any price. Americans may well ask what the sacrifices in Afghanistan were for if the country winds up with a governing coalition that includes the most anti-democratic, hard-core Islamist radicals, including some of the same Taliban leaders who gave Osama bin Laden the support he needed to plan and execute the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and other al Qaeda operations. America’s mission in Afghanistan must mean something and must lead to something positive. Rewarding the insurgents with a seat at the table sets a bad precedent - and after the coalition departs, the insurgents may wind up taking the whole table.

Apart from Afghan political questions, the primary reason to list these groups as terrorist organizations is because that is what they are. They precisely fit the definition of violent extremists that the Obama administration has been promoting. They are responsible for the deaths of coalition troops on a daily basis. They loathe the United States and everything this country stands for. They are the types of groups that America pledged to destroy when it declared war on terrorism, and they would be worth fighting whether or not our troops were engaged in Afghanistan.

These terror groups have declared jihad on the United States. Our country might as well return the favor.

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