The Magazine

Terror Is Their Family Business

Why won’t the State Department designate the Haqqanis?

Jul 16, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 41 • By JEFFREY DRESSLER
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The Haqqani network is the most aggressive terrorist organization targeting U.S. and host nation forces in Afghanistan. Founded by aging patriarch Jalaluddin Haqqani, the network is now managed by his sons Sirajuddin, Badruddin, and Nasiruddin, and their uncles Ibrahim and Khalil. They have carved out a terrorist mini-state in North Waziristan, just across Afghanistan’s eastern border, where they host a who’s who of high-value terrorist targets, including senior members of al Qaeda. 

Pointing at a map

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So why hasn’t the State Department designated what U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker called “a group of killers, pure and simple” as a Foreign Terrorist Organization?

In a recent letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Dianne Feinstein noted that the State Department announced in November 2011 that it was engaged in a “final formal review” of whether or not to designate the Haqqani network. Eight months later, Clinton has yet to list the outfit. 

It’s true that the State Department has designated a handful of the network’s commanders, but as legislators on both sides of the aisle have pointed out, these individual designations have had little effect on the network itself. At the end of June, the chairmen of the House Intelligence, Armed Services, and Foreign Affairs committees introduced legislation calling on the Obama administration to list the entire organization.

So what’s holding up the designation? It seems that the Obama administration has two excuses. The first is that the White House doesn’t want to list the Haqqani network because it may upset the Taliban, with whom the Haqqanis are allied, and with whom the administration still seeks to negotiate a settlement upon the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Moreover, and perhaps more important, the White House fears angering Pakistan, especially those segments of its military and security establishment that have supported the Haqqani family since the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and whose ties to the network have only strengthened in the intervening years.

But of course that’s precisely the point of designating the Haqqani network as a whole. A well-coordinated, aggressive campaign would squeeze the outfit’s financial resources—while sending a clear warning to Pakistan’s military elite that its continued support of a group targeting American troops will no longer be tolerated.

The Haqqani network’s financial interests are extensive, spreading out from Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Persian Gulf, south and east Asia, and perhaps reaching as far as Latin America. As early as the 1970s, Jalaluddin Haqqani began to cultivate a financial support system in the Persian Gulf, where he made connections with wealthy Gulf Arabs (as well as the Saudi intelligence service), thereby laying the groundwork for his close relationship with Arab sponsors, including Osama bin Laden. Those relationships are today maintained by other family members, like Nasiruddin, who has made multiple fundraising trips to the Persian Gulf.

The Haqqani network also runs legitimate businesses—many of them linked to the economic empire of the Pakistani military and security establishment—such as car dealerships within some of Pakistan’s largest cities, money exchanges, and construction companies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Haqqanis’ illegal operations include lucrative smuggling networks to strip timber, minerals, and other precious goods from Afghanistan and sell them in Pakistan and beyond. And the network profits from kidnapping, extortion, and protection rackets on both sides of the border.

While the Haqqani network has hosted a number of international terrorist organizations, it has limited its own military operations to Afghanistan, where its primary support zone lies in the southeastern provinces of Paktia, Paktika, and Khost (P2K). Here the network maintains diversified logistical routes, safe houses, mountain redoubts, and infrastructure required to wage an insurgency against U.S. and Afghan forces and government installations. While recent U.S. and Afghan efforts have somewhat reduced the network’s efficacy in these areas, the Haqqanis continue to maintain significant influence, coercing local populations to submit to their rule.

Since at least 2005, the Haqqani network has managed to extend its influence beyond the three provinces of P2K, making significant inroads into the provinces surrounding Kabul. It has expanded its infrastructure to areas such as Logar, Wardak, Nangarhar, and Kapisa in order to plan and execute the spectacular attacks in Kabul that have become its signature. Since 2008, the network has made an assassination attempt against President Hamid Karzai, and against both of his vice presidents. It tried to blow up the Indian embassy in Kabul, and conducted multiple attacks on luxury hotels hosting foreign nationals. Most notably, it orchestrated attacks in September 2011 and April 2012 on the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force and the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

It seems that the September 2011 operation was the Haqqanis’ unofficial response to the Obama administration’s peace initiative with the Taliban. The Haqqani network is operationally and financially independent of the Taliban, but it continues to pledge allegiance to its leader, Mullah Omar. If he doesn’t want to make peace with the White House, the Haqqanis are not going to cut a side deal. Nonetheless, in August 2011, Ibrahim Haqqani was invited to a meeting with U.S. officials in the United Arab Emirates to discuss his family’s presumptive role in peace negotiations. The administration had its answer when the Haqqani network launched two operations against U.S. troops on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. One was a suicide car bombing of a U.S. base just south of Kabul that injured 77 U.S. soldiers. The other was that first attack on ISAF headquarters and the American embassy. 

It is nonsensical that the State Department has yet to designate the Haqqanis as a foreign terrorist organization for fear that it might make a group waging terrorist operations against U.S. and Afghan troops less likely to sit for peace talks. The concern that listing the Haqqani network might upset the government of Pakistan is also absurd. As then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee, the September 2011 attacks were conducted with support from Pakistan’s intelligence service. 

It’s a good time, then, to make Pakistan’s military leadership reconsider some of its activities in Afghanistan, like its support of the Haqqani network. With the pending withdrawal of the majority of U.S. and coalition forces by the end of 2014, the White House’s ability to shape the region’s future is becoming increasingly limited. 

Jeffrey Dressler is a senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War and author of the recent report “The Haqqani Network: A Strategic Threat.”

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