U.S. Blacklists Militants in Pakistan
Designation of Haqqani Network as a Terrorist Organization Takes Aim at Group Behind Deadly Attacks in Afghanistan
Wall Street Journal -- by Adam Entous and Siobhan Gorman
WASHINGTON—The Obama administration said it would designate the Pakistan-based Haqqani extremist network as a terrorist organization, 30 years after the U.S. supported the same militants to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
The decision by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to blacklist the Haqqani network came after months of debate within the administration and a move by Congress forcing the administration to consider action against the Haqqanis.
Administration officials said the goal of the designation is to step up pressure on a network behind some of the deadliest attacks against American troops in Afghanistan.
But by taking the step, U.S. officials risk further complicating their relations with Islamabad, which were on the mend in recent weeks after a series of meetings to discuss plans for dual offensives against militants, including the Haqqanis, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
U.S. officials believe the militant network is allied with elements of the Pakistani intelligence service. Pakistani officials have said any connections with the Haqqanis are merely maintained to allow them to keep tabs on the group's activities.
Pakistan didn't take issue with the U.S. designation. "This is an internal matter for the United States," said a spokesman for Pakistan's Embassy in Washington. "It is not our business. The Haqqanis are not Pakistani nationals. We will continue to work with all international parties including the U.S. in combating extremism and terrorism."
Yet a security official in Pakistan said the move raised fears it could lead to pressure to name Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism, which would trigger U.S. commercial sanctions.
U.S. officials dismissed those concerns. "This is targeted specifically at the Haqqani network. It is not targeted, in any way, at any organ of the Pakistani government," a senior administration official said. "We are making absolutely no effort to begin a process to designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism."
It wasn't clear how the designation will affect U.S. action against the network, which U.S. officials have described as a criminal syndicate that spans the lawless region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Many of the group's known leaders—including founder Jalaluddin Haqqani and son Sirajuddin, the current leader—already have been named under Treasury and State Department sanctions. The group doesn't have far-flung financial operations, in contrast to other international terrorist organizations on the U.S. terrorism blacklist, officials said.
The U.S. has stepped up its campaign against the Haqqanis in recent months, using Central Intelligence Agency drones to take out Haqqani militants in Pakistan. U.S. officials say a drone strike recently killed Badruddin Haqqani, the group's third-ranking official and most senior leader killed to date.
U.S. and Pakistani officials sought to limit any fallout from the designation on the relationship with Pakistan. U.S. officials said they consulted with their Pakistani counterparts well in advance of Friday's announcement.
Still, U.S. officials said they hoped the designation will help convince Pakistan to crack down on the Haqqanis in their haven in North Waziristan, near the border with Afghanistan.
"We want to work together with the Pakistanis to squeeze the Haqqanis, and there is more that we all can do. This is part of that effort," another senior Obama administration official said.
Some officials, mainly at the State Department, have argued the move risked aggravating relations with Pakistan during a rare period of improvement.
Relations deteriorated after the secret U.S. raid in May 2011 that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Six months later, U.S. forces in Afghanistan accidentally killed two dozen Pakistani troops along the Afghanistan border.
Bilateral ties started to improve after the U.S. apologized for the troops' deaths in July.
Unlike al Qaeda, the Haqqanis have confined their most violent activity to Afghanistan, where they have launched complex attacks on military bases, the U.S. Embassy and government offices. They hold the only captive U.S. service member, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, and they kidnapped New York Times reporter David Rohde, holding him for seven months before his 2009 escape.
By focusing on Afghanistan, the Haqqani group has continued as it began, as an insurgent Afghan force in the 1970s. Then, the group drew praise and support from the U.S., which funneled money through the Pakistani spy service.
However, as hostilities grew between the Haqqanis and the U.S., U.S. officials believe Pakistan's government maintained its ties. The new designation comes as the Pakistanis have said they would target the group as part of their coming offensive, which they call Operation Tight Screw.
The offensive would be launched in coming months in the North Waziristan province, including include the city of Miram Shah, the de facto headquarters of the Haqqani network.
U.S. officials remain skeptical that the Pakistani government will make significant inroads against the network, and concerns are growing as the U.S. reduces its troop presence in Afghanistan under plans to pull out combat forces by the end of 2014.
Some lawmakers sought to use the designation to apply pressure to Pakistan. "It is now imperative that the Pakistani government immediately sever its ties with the Haqqanis," said Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.), who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and a member of the House Intelligence Committee. He cited the Haqqani network's "close ties to al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations that threaten our homeland."
The decision by Mrs. Clinton followed passage of legislation earlier this year that required the State Department to decide whether the Haqqanis meet U.S. criteria of a foreign terrorist organization. In response to the legislation, Mrs. Clinton filed her report to Congress, and announced the designation plans, which will take effect after a brief notification period.
The Pentagon hailed Friday's announcement. "The Haqqani network represents a significant threat to U.S. national security and we will continue our aggressive military action against this threat," said George Little, the Pentagon press secretary.