Since Friday’s announcement designating the Haqqani network as an FTO – a step that came only after congressional pressure and a legislative deadline – administration officials repeatedly have sought to distance Pakistan from the move, despite the group’s longstanding, well-documented ties to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
Last September, then Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen told a Senate committee that the Haqqani network (HQN) was a “veritable arm” of the ISI, a charge that triggered an uproar in Pakistan.
Asked during an interview Sunday whether the FTO designation was intended as a message to Pakistan that it was not doing enough to rein in the HQN, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it was not.
“It’s part of the continuing effort to try to send a message to them [the Haqqanis] – not to anybody else, but to them – because of the really incredibly damaging attacks that they have waged against us, against other targets, and inside Afghanistan,” she told Bloomberg News.
“This is targeted specifically at the Haqqani network,” one of the officials said. “It is not targeted in any way at any organ of the Pakistani government. And I just want to be very clear about that.
“We continue to talk frequently at virtually every intervention with the Pakistanis about what more can be done to squeeze the network,” the official continued. “We have a common enemy in fighting extremism given that 30,000 Pakistanis or more have been killed in the last decade, and we have a very good partnership with the government of Pakistan on combating extremism.”
Reminded about Mullen’s assessment a year ago about ISI-Haqqani links, the second official at the briefing replied, “I want to just unequivocally state that this in no way is the consensus, unanimous view of this administration.”
The official also stressed, in reply to a question, that there was no move underway to start a process of designating Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism.
“If anything, as I just noted, they have been an extremely valuable ally in countering extremism and terrorism, and we are committed to continuing and maintaining and increasing that coordination and cooperation.”
Designation of a state sponsor of terrorism requires a determination that a country’s government “has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” Iran, Syria, Sudan and Cuba are currently the only countries on the list.
The officials’ cautious remarks about Pakistan come at a time when U.S. efforts to patch up a perennially rocky relationship appear to be bearing fruit.
Pakistan sided with the U.S. in the aftermath of al-Qaeda’s attack on American 11 years ago today, formally ending its ties with its Taliban allies, who had provided sanctuary to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. But the bilateral partnership has been beset by difficulties and mutual grievances over the years since.
Reacting to the FTO announcement, security analyst and former Indian counterterrorism official Bahukutumbi Raman pointed to Pakistan’s role, noting that the HQN operates from sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal belt.
“Only punitive pressure against Pakistan can help in neutralizing the Haqqani network,” he said.
“It maintains close links with the ISI, which is well-informed regarding the location and movements of its leaders. The ISI is in a position to help the U.S. in neutralizing the network, but is hesitant to do so as it looks upon the network as its strategic ally for recovering its influence in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the U.S. and other NATO forces from there.”
Raman, who is director of the Institute for Topical Studies in Chennai, India, said no U.S. government would be willing to designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terror, since doing so would require a suspension of military and economic assistance and an end to military-to-military cooperation.
Pakistan using ‘violent extremism as an instrument of policy’
Based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal district, the Haqqani network is one of three key Taliban-linked insurgent groups operating in Afghanistan, the others being the mainstream faction led by Mullah Mohammed Omar (known as the Quetta Shura) and Hezb-i-Islami.
Coalition commanders in Afghanistan have described the HQN as one of the “most dangerous” groups they face, and Pentagon press secretary George Little said on Friday it represents a “significant threat to U.S. national security.”
Mullen in his appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee last September 22 pulled no punches about the group’s links to Pakistan.
The HQN “has long enjoyed the support and protection of the Pakistani government,” he said in submitted written testimony, which also described both the HQN and Quetta Shura as “proxies of the government of Pakistan.”
“The Haqqani Network, for one, acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency,” Mullen told the panel. “With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted that truck bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy,” he added, referring to a Sept. 10, 2011 bomb attack on a NATO outpost that killed five Afghans and injured 77 U.S. soldiers; and an audacious assault three days later on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
“In choosing to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy, the government of Pakistan, and most especially the Pakistani army and ISI, jeopardizes not only the prospect of our strategic partnership but Pakistan’s opportunity to be a respected nation with legitimate regional influence,” Mullen said.
Asked during that same hearing whether he supported linking U.S. funding to Pakistan’s cooperation against the HQN, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he would defer to the State Department.
“But as far as I’m concerned,” he added, “anything that makes clear to them that we cannot tolerate their providing this kind of safe haven to the Haqqanis and that they have to take action – any signal we can send to them, I think, would be important to do.”