September 4, 2012 — Early this month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will submit her decision to Congress on whether or not to designate the Haqqani Network as a terrorist organization. The decision comes after nearly 12 years of war in Afghanistan but at a point of increased violence between the U.S. and Haqqanis.
The Haqqani Network is a terrorist organization and ought to be designated as such. The designation would more accurately reflect the organization's actual behavior and beliefs and enhance the counterterrorism toolkit available to use against it. Of any insurgent group operating in Afghanistan, the Haqqanis are the most violent and most likely to launch spectacular terrorist attacks against international targets. Additionally, the Haqqanis have demonstrated their willingness to operationally collaborate and provide safe haven to other dangerous international terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda's core in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taibba and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. These organizations and the Haqqanis themselves still pose a direct threat to Afghanistan and U.S. interests in the region, especially the Pakistani state and its growing nuclear arsenal and the simmering peace between India and Pakistan.
The Haqqanis resemble a mafia family, operating an empire of licit and illicit businesses in parallel to its militant operations. The group's leaders are in many ways motivated by war-time profiteering as much as ideology.
An official designation functions like a racketeering case by triggering legal, financial and diplomatic actions against the entire Haqqani empire. Many of the senior Haqqani leaders are already designated as global terrorists, but their activities are shrouded behind front companies and the wilds of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. A broader approach in countering the network would be more effective in weakening their capability in Afghanistan and beyond.
The designation would strengthen the Treasury Department's campaign to cut off the network's fundraising in the Persian Gulf. It would also raise the legal and diplomatic costs for Haqqani benefactors and partners to continue their support by linking them to the group's terrorist activities.
The U.S. and its allies have been in an all out war with the Haqqanis since the U.S. began surging forces to Afghanistan and escalating drone strikes in 2008.
However, designating the group gives senior policymakers pause due to fears that it could complicate nascent negotiations with the Taliban and further set back U.S. relations with Pakistan. However, these fears are overstated and highlight the United States and NATO's continued hope of a diplomatic solution to the war with the Taliban.
The prospects of a Dayton-like accord with the Taliban before 2014 are slim. The Taliban has clearly adopted a strategy of 'wait out the West' and it seems to be working. International forces are rapidly withdrawing while political support for the war in the West has collapsed. The limited negotiations that have occurred have pointed toward localized ceasefires rather than national-level political truce.
Additionally, the Haqqanis have never (even before 9/11) operated under the direct command of the main Afghan Taliban, preferring instead to operate as an autonomous entity. In fact, recent analysis by Gretchen Peters at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center indicates that the Haqqanis stand to benefit economically and politically from the continuation of the conflict due to their deep-seeded control of the Afghan and Pakistani war economies.
Policymakers' second concern relates to Pakistan. Our ostensible ally's covert support for the Haqqanis, primarily channeled through Pakistan's ISI should give U.S. policymakers pause, having abetted the group in becoming the deadliest threat to U.S. forces in the 12 year war. The Haqqanis have also served Pakistani interests by attacking Indian targets in Afghanistan to include the 2008 destruction of the Indian Embassy in Kabul.
A designation of the Haqqani Network as a terrorist organization would draw a clear U.S. red line for Pakistan and its security services that the continued sponsorship of terrorist proxies is unacceptable. The legal, financial and military pressure that a designation would bring upon the Haqqanis and their Pakistani sponsors would weaken the capabilities of the network and its militant allies, and compel their international sponsors to think twice about supporting the group.
While a terrorist designation may expose skeletons in the closets of our friends in Pakistan and Afghanistan, it would weaken the most virulent node of the Afghan insurgency. Most importantly, the designation would provide the U.S. and its allies more than just military force to counter the Haqqani Network and its syndicate of criminals and terrorists. As the prospects for a negotiated settlement or clear military victory in Afghanistan fade, the U.S. must begin to harness all aspects of its power to secure our interests in the region. Designating the Haqqani Network a terrorist organization reflects reality in this war and increases the chances of success in fighting terrorism in the region.
Irvine is a research associate at the Center for a New American Security.