Friends In­deed!

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.

Southasia - - International - By Daud Khat­tak Daud Khat­tak is Act­ing Di­rec­tor at Mashaal Ra­dio, RFE/RLPrague, Czech Repub­lic and has cov­ered the Tal­iban move­ment in Pak­istan and Afghanistan. He also writes for the Chris­tian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor and Sun­day Times.

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.

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