In a long-overdue step that will facilitate U.S. objectives in Afghanistan, the Obama Administration formally designated the Haqqani network—based in Pakistan and responsible for some of the most vicious attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan—a foreign terrorist organization (FTO).
Congress forced the Administration’s hand on the issue by passing legislation last month requiring the White House to report by September 9 on whether the organization met the criteria for being listed as an FTO. Given Congress’s strong recommendation for the Administration to make the designation, and in light of recent large-scale attacks by the Haqqani network, it would have been extremely risky politically for the Administration to avoid designating the group an FTO.
The designation will likely be met with anger by Pakistan’s senior military leadership, which views Haqqani as one of its greatest assets in maintaining influence in Afghanistan. These officials were most likely banking on the U.S. eventually acquiescing to a major Haqqani role in any future dispensation in Afghanistan. With the terrorist designation, however, the U.S. is signaling that it will instead work to prevent the Haqqanis from re-establishing their base in Afghanistan unless and until the group moderates its behavior and breaks ties to al-Qaeda.
Pakistan’s failure to use its ties to the Haqqanis to help stem attacks against U.S. interests, break their relationship with al-Qaeda, and convince them to participate in negotiations is ultimately what forced the Administration to make this decision. The Administration has sought assiduously to cajole Pakistan to deal with the Haqqani network. In light of Pakistan’s continued intransigence, U.S. officials had little option left but to corner Islamabad on the issue.
The designation will also help the Administration attack the Haqqani financing infrastructure. Although the Administration had already listed several individuals within the organization as terrorists, listing the entire organization will help marshal more resources and attention to the problem across the U.S. government.
Pakistan is unlikely to take any immediate steps to help the U.S. counter the Haqqani network. However, over time, the designation could help shift thinking within the senior Pakistani military ranks toward viewing the network as more of a liability than an asset when it comes to Pakistan’s regional standing. At the least, Pakistan can no longer argue that its ambiguous policies toward the deadly terrorist organization are driven by U.S. waffling on the question of whether to involve the Haqqanis in peace negotiations.
The terrorist designation demonstrates that the U.S. is committed to ensuring that any Afghan peace settlement will not allow terrorists to re-establish their bases in the country and will keep intact the democratic setup that NATO and the Afghans have established over the last decade.