The New York Times today reports that the Obama administration has decided to designate as a terrorist organization the Haqqani Network, the most deadly faction of the Taliban movement responsible for high-profile attacks against American and Afghan military and civilian targets in the past decade. The decision comes after a Congressional bill gave Secretary Clinton the deadline of September 9 to blacklist the group or provide a rationale for not doing so.
The designation, although long-overdue, is an encouraging step to increase pressure on the militant group at a critical time when foreign troops are withdrawing and transitioning security to the Afghan lead. If necessary follow-up measures are taken, the designation can help achieve the following:
- Targeting the group’s fundraising: The Haqqani Network has a wide range of licit and illicit income sources. In addition to profiting from smuggling, drug trade and kidnapping, the Haqqani clan has invested in a variety of businesses such as real estate, transport, and import and export in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Persian Gulf region over the past 30 years. The designation will make it difficult for the group to do business and will deter other companies in the region from dealings with it.
- Putting pressure on Pakistan: The designation will put more pressure on Pakistan to cut ties with the Haqqanis and to launch the long-awaited military operation against the group’s safe havens in North Waziristan. Concerns raised by some administration officials that the designation will further strain ties with Pakistan is unfounded. While the Pakistani military sees the Haqqanis as a “strategic asset,” it has repeatedly denied operational assistance with the group. Thus, it is unlikely that Islamabad will protest the designation publicly or shut down NATO’s supply line in retaliation.
- Undermining al Qaeda: The Haqqani Network is al Qaeda’s closest ally in the region. Bin Laden and Jalaludin Haqqani, the group’s ailing leader, had cultivated close ties since the 1980s jihad against the Soviets. Moreover, when Osama returned to Afghanistan in 1996, it was Jalaludin who welcomed him in eastern Nangarhar Province. Defeating the Haqqanis means al Qaeda will find it difficult to gain a foothold in Afghanistan after foreign troops’ depart in 2014.
- Bringing clarity in terrorism policy: The designation sends a clear message to friends and foes in the region that the U.S. is serious about fighting terrorism. It motivates allies in Afghanistan, especially its security forces, to carry on the battle against terrorist groups and assures them that the U.S. is on their side. It also signals to Taliban fighters that Washington is determined to continue the fight on terror and that their strategy of waiting the foreign troops out will not succeed.