In confirmation hearings last week, Richard Olson, President Barack Obama’s nominee for ambassador to Pakistan, said his top priority would be working with the Pakistanis to degrade the Taliban-allied Haqqani network.
With good reason, the U.S. considers the Haqqani network to be the greatest threat to international and local forces in Afghanistan. Its trademark is suicide attacks, like those last September in Kabul on the U.S. Embassy and the headquarters of NATO-led international troops. Much of the Haqqanis’ success owes to the haven that the group enjoys in North Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal region.
Unfortunately, the odds of getting the Pakistanis to crack down are slim. Like the Americans, they have a history with the group; both supported its founder, Jalaluddin Haqqani, and his followers in the 1980s against the Soviets, who then occupied Afghanistan. Unlike the Americans, though, the Pakistanis have kept up their ties and regard the group as key to their future - - insurance that the government of Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, won’t get powerful enough to gang up with India against Pakistan, which sits between the two. That scenario might sound far-fetched, but it’s real to Pakistanis.
Anyway, Pakistan is not in a particularly appeasing mood. It only recently reopened its roads to allow the resupply of international forces in Afghanistan after the U.S. belatedly apologized for accidentally killing 24 Pakistani soldiers near the border last November.
Although the U.S. can’t count on Pakistan as a partner, it can do more to combat the Haqqanis on its own. Last month, the House and Senate passed a resolution urging the State Department to add the network to the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations. The president should overcome his hesitation and sign the measure so that it takes force.
The administration has been reluctant to go that route because it fears foreclosing the chance that the Haqqanis will join the suspended Afghan national-reconciliation effort. The U.S. hopes that process will produce a political settlement before its last troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan in 2014.
Without a terrorist designation, however, the U.S. has little power to disrupt the Haqqani network’s well-established fundraising in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries. The U.S. has sanctioned a handful of Haqqani leaders, freezing any assets they hold under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibiting Americans from doing business with them. Labeling the group as terrorist would bar Americans from supplying the group with money and, more important, require financial institutions to block all funds in which it has an interest. The U.S. Treasury has enforced the latter ban in previous cases by threatening to shun any bank that handles such transactions, an action that has cut into the earnings of other terrorist organizations, notably al-Qaeda.
The Haqqanis wouldn’t like this, but that wouldn’t necessarily decrease the odds of their joining a reconciliation process. Like the Taliban, they will agree to a political settlement when they are sufficiently weakened or they calculate it is in their interests. Cutting into their funds could hasten that determination.
In any case, the prospect of reconciliation hasn’t inhibited the Haqqanis from killing Americans, who are likewise killing Haqqanis. In that deadly context, throttling their funding seems both sensible and appropriate.
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