Western officials and analysts say U.S. and U.N. pressure is failing to persuade Pakistan to cut its ties to a terrorist network whose attacks coalition forces fear could complicate the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
The Haqqani Network, based in Pakistan’s northwest region, receives financial and logistical support from Pakistan’s military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, Western officials say.
“The support operation [in Pakistan] for the Haqqanis’ war-fighting is intact,” said a former Western official who spoke on background, citing security concerns.
A report published by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., found that the Haqqani Network “continues to maintain close operational ties” with the ISI.
“Although the relationship with ISI is not always smooth, it is also unlikely the Haqqanis would survive if the Pakistani state turned against them,” the report says.
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in September 2011, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described the Haqqani Network as a “veritable arm” of the ISI.
The network has been linked to several deadly attacks on U.S., Afghan and foreign targets in Afghanistan. In September 2011, its fighters attacked the U.S. Embassy and NATO offices in Kabul after penetrating multiple layers of security in the Afghan capital.
The U.S. and the United Nations recently stepped up pressure on the network by targeting its financial assets.
The Obama administration in September designated the Haqqani Network as a foreign terrorist organization, making it illegal for U.S. citizens to provide material support or resources to the group’s members and freezing the group’s assets that are under U.S. jurisdiction.
In November, the U.N. Security Council’s Taliban sanctions committee took similar action, which compelled all U.N. member states, including Pakistan, to cut ties to the Haqqani Network.
The U.S. and U.N. actions are the first financial pressure applied to the terrorist group.
“The network has been under a lot of tactical pressure, but we have not seen them come under any financial pressure and that’s what these designations could do to them,” said Gretchen Peters, author of the Combating Terrorism Center report.
But, she added, “a designation is like an arrest warrant; it is meaningless unless somebody actually goes out to make an arrest.”
A father-son network
Jeffrey Dressler, a senior research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War who closely studies the Haqqani Network, said the U.N. action is especially significant because it opens diplomatic channels with Persian Gulf countries where the network’s financial activities are based.
Haqqani leaders routinely leave their safe havens in Pakistan to go on fundraising trips to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
“The evolution of the Haqqani network from a localized jihadi outfit into a sophisticated, diversified and transnational crime network implies that tactics which have been applied successfully against other criminal networks around the globe could be applied in the effort to degrade the Haqqanis,” the Combating Terrorism Center report says.
The foreign terrorist group designation gives the U.S. more leverage to attack terrorist funding and additional justifications for counterterrorism efforts.
But few expect it will be a game-changer when it comes to Pakistan’s support for the terrorists.
“It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that old partners don’t break up easily,” said a U.S. official who spoke on background. “You still have to call out the Haqqanis for who they are: They are violent terrorists.”
The Haqqanis are ethnic Pashtuns and belong to the Zadran tribe in Paktia province in southeastern Afghanistan. Their network is active across much of southeastern Afghanistan and seeks to regain control over its traditional bases in Khost and Paktia provinces.
The Haqqani Network was led by the father-son duo Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani. However, Jalaluddin Haqqani has been relegated to the role of a figurehead since suffering a stroke in 2005.
Sirajuddin Haqqani grew up in North Waziristan in the company of foreign jihadists. He is viewed as an ideological extremist who has ambitions that go far beyond southeastern Afghanistan.
The Haqqani Network has headquarters in and around Miram Shah, the capital of North Waziristan. It allows al Qaeda and Taliban militants to use its safe havens and encourages them to attack targets in Afghanistan.
Jalaluddin Haqqani and Osama bin Laden forged a friendship during the fight against the Soviets, and when U.S. forces attacked Afghanistan in October 2001, Haqqani allowed the al Qaeda leader to use his group’s safe havens in Pakistan.
Bin Laden was killed in a May 2, 2011, raid by Navy SEALs on his compound in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad, 60 miles from the capital, Islamabad.
‘Pakistan is at risk’
Pakistan’s security establishment views the Haqqani Network and several other groups as proxies through which to maintain influence in Afghanistan, according to Western officials and analysts.
“There is probably nothing that the international community can do with respect to sanctions on the Haqqani Network that would force the Pakistani security services or government to go after the Haqqanis, because nothing has fundamentally changed about their calculus,” Mr. Dressler said.
The group’s fighters travel freely across the porous border that divides North Waziristan from Afghanistan because of an understanding with Pakistani security forces that they will not target Pakistani military interests, analysts say.
However, the relationship between the Haqqanis and the ISI is complex.
The Haqqanis despise the ISI, Ms. Peters said.
“What should be changing Pakistan’s calculus is that the Haqqanis and other militant networks in the region are increasingly hostile toward Pakistan,” she said. “Pakistan is at risk of being attacked by the very monsters it helped create, particularly the Haqqanis.”
“The Haqqanis are guns for hire. I don’t think there is any love lost between them and the Pakistan government at this point,” Ms. Peters added.
Pakistani officials have denied supporting the Haqqani Network. They say that, if anything, support is provided by “rogue” former army and intelligence personnel.
Pakistani officials in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.
“To me, the explanation that the Pakistanis don’t really know what is going on, that never really held water,” Mr. Dressler said. “When it comes to supporting the Haqqani Network, this is something that is backed by the military leadership.”
In Afghanistan, the Haqqanis have created what the Western official described as a “security challenge” as they fight to win back lost strongholds even as U.S. combat troops prepare to leave the country by the end of 2014.
“The Haqqanis seem well-positioned to dominate their zone of operations in the event of a precipitous U.S. withdrawal from the region,” the Combating Terrorism Center report says.
The problem is that Pakistan has never faced consequences for its support for international militant groups, Mr. Dressler said.
“They continue to shirk responsibility for dealing with a variety of international terrorists operating on their soil, particularly the Haqqani Network,” he said. “There ought to be consequences.”
Western and Afghan officials have their sights set on the end of 2014, by which time U.S. combat troops will have left Afghanistan. They are worried that the Haqqani Network will become emboldened to carry out more terrorist strikes.
The Haqqanis also could undermine any peace deal reached with the Taliban, though such a scenario is remote for now. The Taliban broke off peace talks with the U.S. in March after accusing it of shifting the goal posts.
The Taliban leadership is split on the issue of peace talks. The group’s political leadership favors reconciliation, but its field commanders, emboldened by the 2014 deadline, are determined to draw out the conflict.
The Taliban refuse to negotiate a peace deal with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government, which they derisively refer to as a Western puppet.
However, Taliban officials and envoys from Hezb-i-Islami, another Islamist group, held a rare and secretive two-day meeting last week with representatives of the Karzai government in Chantilly, France.