- 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.

Mr. Karzai has ruled out a resumption of talks with the Taliban, saying he prefers to talk directly with the leaders of Pakistan.

Dawood Asas, a senator and member of the parliamentary security and defense committee, said the Karzai government will also never negotiate with the Haqqanis.

“There is no use talking directly to the Haqqani Network,” he said.

Adm. Mike Mullen, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a congressional hearing in September that the Haqqani Network is a “veritable arm of the ISI.”

Mohammad Naeem Lali Hamidzai, chairman of the Afghan parliamentary committee on internal-security affairs, endorsed Adm. Mullen’s comments.

“We have seen a lot of solid evidence that Pakistan is behind the Haqqani Network. We have caught many people with ties to the ISI,” he said.

In their meetings in Washington, they urged U.S. officials to launch military action against the Haqqani Network’s safe havens in Pakistan.

“Until now, we haven’t seen any change in Pakistan’s support for the Haqqani Network. And, if Pakistan doesn’t change its behavior, U.S. troops should go after the Haqqani Network in Pakistan,” Mr. Hamidzai said.

He added that in addition to supporting terrorists, Pakistani troops are shelling Afghan civilians in the eastern provinces of Kunar and Nangarhar and the city of Jalalabad.

Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, a top-ranking U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told reporters late last month that Pakistan’s military appeared to be in “collaboration, or at a minimum, looking the other way when insurgents conducted rocket or mortar fire in what we believe to be visual sight of one of their posts.”

U.S. and Afghan military operations have targeted the Haqqani Network’s fighters in Afghanistan. Mrs. Clinton said 100 terrorists were killed late last month.

Pakistani officials have warned that it will treat any infiltration of its border by U.S. troops as a violation of its sovereignty. A covert Predator drone program, run by the U.S. with unacknowledged support from Pakistan, has eliminated several terrorist suspects in Pakistan.

Pakistan has been reluctant to use military force against the Haqqanis; however, a senior U.S. official said it can take other action to squeeze the network.

These actions could include ensuring that “intelligence doesn’t go to the Haqqani Network [EnLeader], that they don’t benefit from financial resources or flow of finances, that we deal specifically with areas where we know the Haqqani Network and the Taliban are based, including kind of key cities along the border,” the official told reporters last week.

Afghan officials say Pakistan has played the role of spoiler in the Karzai government’s now-suspended effort to make peace with the Taliban, the former rulers of Afghanistan who opened a guerrilla campaign after U.S. forces toppled them in 2001. They claim Pakistan was linked to the assassination in September of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was leading peace efforts with the Taliban.

“The reconciliation effort died with Rabbani,” Mr. Hamidzai said.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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