After two years of “spirited debate” and notwithstanding deep concern within the Obama White House about the fragility of ties between Washington and Islamabad, the U.S. State Department has finally designated the fearsome Haqqani Network terror outfit in Afghanistan a Foreign Terrorist Organisation.
In a rare instance of overwhelming and unanimous support in the U.S. Congress leading to mounting pressure on the Obama White House to pin the FTO blacklist-label on the Haqqani group, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was given 30 days in early August to finalise her decision on the designation question.
The Haqqani Network is said to have been behind a string of deadly attacks in Kabul and elsewhere, most prominently including a bombing of the Indian embassy and an assault on the U.S. embassy using rockets. Additionally the group has been linked to an attack on Kabul's elite Serena and Intercontinental hotels and several kidnappings.
On Friday she reported back to Congress that the Haqqani Network “meets the statutory criteria of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) for designation as an FTO. This action meets the requirements of the Haqqani Network Terrorist Designation Act of 2012.” She added that she also intended to designate the organisation as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity under an Executive Order.
An increasingly fraught U.S.-Pakistan relationship, most recently manifested in Pakistan closing down NATO supply routes after its soldiers were killed by Western allies in an incident last November, was said to have put the brakes on the designation of the Haqqani Network thus far.
However coming as it does, a day after an important speech by President Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention, the decision to designate the Haqqani outfit raised questions about the future of the U.S.’ approach towards terror groups that allegedly have links with Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence.
Some experts such as Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, expressed concern that despite the designation, more needed to change. In comments to The Hindu he said, “It is a good step but it raises a larger question. Given the Haqqani networks ties to the ISI, which have been clearly established by the administration... Are we going to continue to provide arms and money to an army that sponsors terrorists who kill our soldiers?”
Considering the role of Pakistan in this decision Lisa Curtis, Senior Research Fellow for South Asia at the Heritage Foundation, noted, “In many ways, it is Pakistan’s intransigent position and unwillingness to use its leverage with the Haqqanis to shape their behaviour that has forced the administration to take this decision.” She argued that as the designation had an impact on the Network’s financing infrastructure over time, it could also “shift thinking within the senior Pakistani military ranks toward viewing the Haqqani Network more of a liability than an asset when it comes to Pakistan’s regional standing.”
The Obama administration, however, appeared keen to emphasise its sustained efforts at outlawing the terror group. In a statement Ms. Clinton noted, “These actions follow a series of other steps that the U.S. government already has taken against the Haqqanis. The Department of State previously designated key Haqqani Network leaders... and the Department of the Treasury has designated other militants with ties to the Haqqanis.”
Pointing out that the U.S. continued its “robust campaign of diplomatic, military, and intelligence pressure on the network, demonstrating... resolve to degrade the organisation’s ability to execute violent attacks,” she suggested that this process was consistent with the long-term plan to support Afghan security forces and Afghan-led reconciliation.