- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 5, 2011

A group of senior Afghan lawmakers says the Obama administration is wasting its time in trying to make peace with the Haqqani Network, a Pakistan-based terrorist group that U.S. officials have accused of killing Americans and attacking the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan.

Washington should instead increase pressure on Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to cut its ties to the Haqqanis, withhold millions of dollars of aid to Islamabad and attack the militants in their safe havens, the lawmakers told The Washington Times this week.

The Haqqani Network, which is led by Sirajuddin Haqqani and operates from Pakistan’s North Waziristan province, is supported by the ISI, according to Afghan and Western officials. Pakistani officials deny these accusations.

The Afghan lawmakers said the United States should use a combination of sanctions and travel bans against top ISI officers and the Pakistani military to break their support for the Haqqani Network.

The group of 10 lawmakers is in Washington for meetings at the Pentagon and State Department and on Capitol Hill.

U.S. officials met with representatives of the Haqqani Network over the summer.

In congressional testimony late last month, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton defended the Obama administration’s strategy of “fight, talk and build” while dealing with the terrorists. She said part of the reason for the administration’s approach is to test whether the terrorist groups “have any willingness to negotiate in good faith.”

The Afghan lawmakers were pessimistic about the prospects of such an approach.

“U.S. officials should stop talking to the Haqqani Network. It is the ISI that is important,” said Abdul Rahim Ayoubi, a member of defense committee in the Afghan National Assembly.

“It is the ISI that controls and supports the Haqqani terrorists, and it is Pakistani doctors that treat them when they are injured fighting in Afghanistan,” he said.

“The Haqqani Network is just a name. It is really an ISI and Pakistani military network,” he added.

The meeting between U.S. officials and representatives of the Haqqani Network took place before attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and a NATO base in Wardak province south of the capital in September. U.S. officials blame both attacks on the Haqqanis. Seventy-seven U.S. troops were injured in the attack on the base.

Ali Akbar Jamshidi, deputy chairman of the Afghan Senate’s defense commission, said the administrations in Kabul and Washington are not on the same page when it comes to talking with the terrorists.

“This lack of coordination is evident from the fact that while the U.S. is reaching out to the Taliban and the Haqqanis, [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai has said he is not in favor of such talks,” he said.

“The U.S. must first take our government on board and coordinate with us before negotiating with terrorists,” he added.

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