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     Oct 15, 2011

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Haqqanis sidestep US terror list
By Amir Mir

XINIANG, China - A signal from the United States that it remains open to inclusion of the Haqqani network in a peace deal for Afghanistan has made it abundantly clear why the Barack Obama administration is reluctant to declare the group a "foreign terrorist organization" despite blaming the Haqqanis for the audacious September 13 attack on the US Embassy in Kabul.

Washington knows very well that the Haqqani network is a key player in Afghan politics and will play a part in determining the kind of Afghanistan the Americans will leave behind more than a decade after the invasion. Even so, US drone attacks targeting key members of the group continue, with reports that a senior commander of the network was killed in a US drone strike in

northwestern Pakistan on Thursday.

"Where we are right now is that we view the Haqqanis and other of their ilk as, you know, being adversaries and being very dangerous to Americans, Afghans and coalition members inside Afghanistan, but we are not shutting the door on trying to determine whether there is some path forward," United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Reuters on October 11 when asked if she believed members of the Haqqani network might reconcile with the Afghan government.

Clinton is extending the informal offer of peace talks at a crucial time when the US State Department is under pressure refraining from officially designating the Haqqani group as a terrorist organization. The Obama administrations's changing stance shows that the Americans donít want to close the door on negotiations since a terrorist tag would make it impossible to hold talks with Haqqanis, as that would violate American criminal law.

Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared last month the lethal network was "a veritable arm of the [Pakistani] Inter-Services Intelligence which exports violent extremism to Afghanistan". However, the White House has already backed away from the assertions of Mullen, who was the top US military officer until his retirement last month.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the elusive chief of the network, a key component of the Taliban-led Afghan insurgency, claimed in an October 3, 2011, interview with the BBC that he had been approached by the United States to join the Afghan government.

"Right from the first day of [the] American arrival till this day, not only Pakistani but other Islamic and other non-Islamic countries including America, contacted us and they are still doing so. They are asking us to leave the ranks of Islamic emirates," he said, referring to the Taliban leadership. He said the outsiders promised an "important role in the government of Afghanistan" as well as negotiations.

While confirming Sirajuddin Haqqani's claim, the Wall Street Journal reported on October 5 that senior US officials secretly met with leaders of the Haqqani network this summer in an effort to draw them into talks on winding down the war. The report quoted some senior US officials as saying there had been at least one meeting over the summer between Haqqani representatives and US officials, which was set up by the ISI.

The US military leadership has repeatedly blamed the Haqqani network for most of the terrorist attacks on international forces stationed in Afghanistan, and on September 29 the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Sirajuddin Haqqani and several other group leaders on in the wake of the September 13 attack in Kabul. "These financiers and facilitators provide the fuel for Afghan Taliban, Haqqani Network and al-Qaeda to realize their violent aspirations", David Cohen, the Under Secretary of the US Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in a statement.

Yet the move has failed to dissipate mounting pressure on the White House to place the Haqqani group, whose attacks threaten to become a major obstacle to US hopes for a smooth withdrawal from Afghanistan, on the State Department's list of designated terrorist organizations. Responding to growing demands from American lawmakers to tag the Haqqani network as a terrorist group, Clinton on September 28 said the United States was close to a decision on whether it make such a declaration.

"We are in the final, formal review that has to be undertaken to make a government-wide decision to designate the network as a foreign terrorist organization," Clinton told reporters in Washington. Veteran US lawmakers such as Democrat Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had urged Clinton to put the Haqqani network on the terrorism blacklist, saying there was no question it merited inclusion.

However, in making the October 11 statement suggesting the US wants to keep its options open for a deal with the militant groups as it seeks peace in a region known for historic merry-go-round of political and military alliances, Clinton has indicated the Haqqanis will stay off the terrorist list in near future, mainly because Washington considers it as being in the strongest position among militant groups to unravel the American plan plan of stabilizing Afghanistan before the scheduled withdrawal next year.

In contrast to the American perception of the Haqqanis, the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment considers the group a strategic asset. Their relationship is several decades old and is also mutually beneficial. Unlike the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistan Taliban - TTP), the Haqqanis have no grouse against Islamabad; their goal, instead, is to have a stake in the dispensation of Kabul once the Americans leave. Considering that 15,000 fighters are said to be under the control of the Haqqani network, a necessary factor for forging a peace settlement in Afghanistan is either their weakening or cooperation.

A weakened Haqqani network would also mean less leverage for Pakistan to influence events in Kabul. With India on the east, Pakistan does not want a hostile regime in the west. This is why Pakistani army commanders, at a September meeting led by Army Chief General Ashfaq Kiani, categorically ruled out a military offensive against the Haqqani network. In addition, the generals say that yet another operation in Pakistan - that too under the American pressure - would alienate the Pakistanis.

The story of the Haqqani network is entwined with the history of wars and coups and armed foreign interventions in Afghanistan. The network's founder, Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, was initially a member of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami, which in the 1970s was waging a battle against Afghan president Sardar Daud over his crackdown on nascent Islamists influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Daud's implacable opposition to the Hizb prompted its leaders to shift to Pakistan, where subsequently a faction under Maulvi Yunis Khalis split away from Hekmatyar. Haqqani emerged as one of the more important commanders of the Khalis faction.

In 1979, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Jalaluddin shifted his family and fighters from his home province of Khost to North Waziristan, from where he launched deadly sallies against the Russians in Afghanistan. Through the 1980s Jalaluddin worked in tandem with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which treated him as a commander of formidable power and repute, worthy of an invitation to meet then-president Ronald Reagan at the White House. Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was correct in describing the Haqqani network as the "blue-eyed boy" of the CIA for many years.

As the CIA feted and fawned over Jalaluddin, he didn't disappoint, becoming the first resistance leader to capture a city - Khost - from the Soviet-backed Najibullah government in 1991. He was appointed justice minister in the first Mujahideen government in 1992, but switched his allegiance to the Taliban as they threatened Kabul. The Afghan Taliban and Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani shared a common friend in the ISI. As Taliban commander in 1996-97, he was accused of killing members of Afghanistan's Tajik minority. The shift in allegiance won him a post in the Taliban council of ministers, and he was the governor of Paktia province at the time the Americans invaded Afghanistan in 2001.

As the American juggernaut swept through Afghanistan, and Khost came under increasing pressure, Jalaluddin was back in North Waziristan, from where he directed his network of Islamic fighters to destabilize the eastern part of Afghanistan - Paktia, Paktika, Khost, Ghazni, and Wardak - through attacks on the Americans. The Haqqani network's rising curve in the badlands of Afghanistan can be gleaned from the attacks it has been accused of masterminding even in Kabul.

In his late 60s, Jalaluddin is now more a patriarch than a commander. The network's fighting strategy is now the responsibility of his son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who doesn't carry a gun, refuses to move in a motorcade, and refrains from wearing a turban lest he is identified and targeted through drone attacks. The 33-year old, known as Khaleefa among his fighters, is the second son of Jalaluddin Haqqani and is currently leading the network. Sirajuddin was nominated as the operational commander of the network when Jalaluddin Haqqani sidelined himself from the ground offensive. 

Continued 1 2 

Haqqani: Military or political solution?
(Oct 8, '11)

Afghans skeptical US will change Pakistan (Oct 7, '11)

Haqqani network sours Pakistan-US ties (Sep 20, '11)

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