The UN has officially recognized the Haqqani network as a terrorist organization. But Pakistan’s decision to cut all ties from the group seems like an unlikely possibility.
On November 5, the United Nations Security Council formally identified the Haqqani Network as a terrorist organization galvanizing a debate as to what will be the implications for Pakistan and the future of peace talks in Afghanistan.
The UN decision came at a crucial time – the United States and its international partners are preparing to wrap up their decade-long combat mission in Afghanistan. On the diplomatic front, the nine-month stalemate in Pak-US relations is still almost the same. The Karzai administration in neighboring Afghanistan however, is not on the same page as the Obama administration regarding US troops withdrawal, the arming of Afghan forces and the negotiations with the Taliban.
In such a situation, skepticism exists on both sides of the PakAfghan border about the positive outcomes from the UN decision of blacklisting the Haqqani Network, which was once termed as the ‘veritable arm’ of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies by senior US commander, Adm. Michael Mullen. Under the UN sanctions, the member states have to freeze assets of the Haqqani Network, impose a travel ban on its leaders and stop arms sale and supplies. Islamabad’s immediate reaction to the sanctions was to comply with the UN requirement. However, for many, it is too early for Pakistan to snap ties with the network or launch an operation against its safe havens in the tribal areas.
From Pakistan’s point of view, while an open support is not an option, snapping of ties or launching an operation against the network would be a risky game that could endanger its strategic goals in the neighborhood. This comes at a time when the US policy regarding the future of Afghanistan is yet to be made clear and neighboring countries, as well as regional powers, are watching the situation unfold and adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach. As for the pressure from the international community on Pakistan, the country has already been under pressure from the US over the past few years for an operation against the Haqqani safe havens in the Waziristan tribal region.
In a bid to counter-balance the Afghan and US demand for action against the Haqqani network, the Pakistani side is now regularly filing complaints with its Afghan counterparts asking for action against Taliban leader, Mullah Fazlullah who security officials believe is enjoying safe havens in the Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan and launching attacks on Pakistani security forces.
Looking from this perspective, it seems unlikely that Pakistan will launch an operation against the Haqqani Network in the near future or at least snap ties with the group by blocking its arms supply routes. As for the presence of Haqqanis, it is no denying the fact that the group’s leadership resides in the cities and even brokers peace deals as
happened in the case of the Kurram tribal agency when the Shia and Sunnis of the area were engaged in fighting that resulted in blockade of the roads.
Looking at Pakistan’s track record of compliance with UN or US sanctions, there is little room for optimism as no prominent Taliban leader was arrested despite their entry into Pakistan soon after the topping of the Taliban regime in late 2000. Similarly, the US announced a bounty on the head of Jamatud-Dawa chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed for his group’s involvement in terrorist activities, but Saeed remains at large, holding public meetings and joining debates on private television channels.
Of course, the Pakistani security establishment will feel more pressure following the UN blacklisting of the Haqqani Network mainly because any proven links can bring the country closer to a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’ although there are no such signs at the moment.
The question is what keeps Pakistan sticking to its support for the Haqqanis, particularly at a time when the group’s brothers in arms, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are regularly testing their guns at Pakistani soldiers, killing civilians in the cities as well as targeting sensitive security installations inside the country. The answer is simple: the mindset in the Pakistani security establishment has both its apprehensions and hopes. In a postwithdrawal Afghanistan, Pakistan will need a friendly government or at least a group to ensure its say in Afghan affairs. The presence of Haqqanis, with a strong basis in Afghanistan’s southeastern parts (Paktia, Khost, Paktika) is the handiest tool for thwarting any anti-Pakistan steps in the future.
Alongside, relations between the Pakistani security agencies and the Afghan Taliban are not at the level as they were a few years ago. The arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Biradar at a time when he was secretly holding peace talks or at least discussing the modalities of such peace talks with the Afghan government is one single proof. Both the Taliban and the Pakistani security agencies have suspicions about each other and the only group enjoying a full understanding with the Pakistanis is said to be the Haqqani Network.
Hence, the Haqqani Network can play a crucial role as a game changer even if the Taliban agree to a negotiated settlement of the Afghan imbroglio with the United States and President Karzai’s government, without taking Pakistan onboard.
Furthermore, the Haqqani group, despite all its brutalities and sophistication with fighting and attacks in Afghanistan, never came in conflict with the Pakistani security agencies. The future of a peaceful Afghanistan is mostly dependent on the success of ongoing efforts to persuade the Taliban to hold peace talks with the US and the Afghan government. Since the Haqqanis are reckoned as a powerful group having strong influence among the mainstream Taliban, breaking away from the group or launching an operation against it seems to be a distant cry for Pakistan, at least in the near future.