Rob Crilly: US at last ready to call deadly militia a terrorist group
THE Haqqani network is probably the most feared and deadly of the insurgent groups in Afghanistan.
The past year’s most spectacular attacks – commando-style assaults on the US embassy in the heart of Kabul, or the terrifying raids on city hotels – have all been blamed on the tribal militia.
So when Hillary Clinton last Friday announced she had notified Congress that the Haqqanis met the criteria of a terrorist movement, the question was not so much “why?”, but “why did it take so long?”
The answer is that the move could have devastating consequences for peace talks in the region and may eventually destroy Washington’s precarious relationship with Pakistan, just as that alliance becomes ever more vital.
The debate about quite what to do has rattled between Washington and Islamabad for the past couple of years, pitting CIA and Pentagon hawks against the more diplomatic approach of the State Department.
As one official who told me about the crucial question last year put it: “The Haqqanis are not listed as a terrorist organisation at the moment. The reason for that is clear. If you call them a terrorist group, then there are implications for Pakistan.”
With bases inside Pakistan’s tribal areas and with a long history of links between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, designating the Haqqani network as terrorists could be the first step to declaring Islamabad to be a state sponsor of terrorism.
All this at a time when Pakistan’s role in an Afghan peace is becoming ever more vital.
Then there is the Haqqani network itself.
Jalaluddin Haqqani, its elderly and ill leader, was an asset of the CIA, receiving cash and weapons during the 1980s to fight occupying Soviet forces.
After 9/11, however, he forged close links with al-Qaeda and began fighting US troops from his bases in Pakistan.
Today, his lieutenants are loyal to Mullah Omar and sit on the Taleban leadership council, or Quetta Shura, and any peace talks will need to involve Haqqani representatives
Besides alienating Pakistan and undermining talks, the Haqqani network is believed to be holding Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, a 26-year-old American captured in 2009.
US diplomats have been wary of increasing pressure on the Haqqani network – and Pakistan – by designating the group a terrorist organisation.
The announcement by Mrs Clinton shows that approach has been ditched in favour of a tougher line.
• Rob Crilly writes for The Scotsman from Islamabad.
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