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.

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