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  • Top US commander pushes to blacklist Haqqani network

    Published on July 15, 2010

    New top US commander in Afghanistan is pushing hard to get Haqqani network listed as terrorist organisation, a move that could be a setback to Pakistan military which is striving to involve the group in Afghan reconciliation.

    General David H Patraeus took up the issue with President Barack Obama’s top aides on Afghanistan and Pakistan late last week; New York Times reported quoting US officials who said “it was being seriously considered”.

    The American general’s warning to curb the Haqqani faction, which has reportedly upto 2,000 heavily armed fighters, comes amidst rising calls in US for action against the group.

    Voicing concern that Pakistan is not taking enough action against the Afghan Taliban, including the Haqqani network, two top US Senators have warned Islamabad that any future terror attack against America or Europe that can be traced back to that country would invite “very serious” consequences.

    Fresh from their visit to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Democratic Senators Carl Levin and Jack Reed demanded that the Haqqani network as also the Pakistani Taliban should be declared as foreign terrorists. Such a move, New York Times said, could risk antagonising Pakistan, a critical US partner in the war efforts in Afghanistan.

    It said it could also frustrate Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is pressing to reconcile with all the insurgent groups as a way to end the nine-year-old war and consolidate his own grip on power.

    From its base in the frontier area near the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the network of Sirajuddin Haqqani is suspected of running much of the insurgency around Kabul and across eastern Afghanistan, carrying out car bombings and kidnappings, including spectacular attacks on American military installations.

    It is allied with al Qaeda and with leaders of the Afghan Taliban branch under Mullah Muhammad Omar, now based near Quetta, Pakistan. But the group’s real power may lie in its deep connections to Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, which analysts say sees the Haqqani network as a way to exercise its own leverage in Afghanistan.

    Pakistani military leaders have recently offered to broker talks between Karzai and the network, officials said, arguing that it could be a viable future partner, the paper said.

    US officials remain extremely sceptical that the Haqqani network’s senior leaders could ever be reconciled with the Afghan government, although they say perhaps some midlevel commanders and foot soldiers could.

    The idea of putting the Haqqani network on a blacklist was first made public Tuesday by Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, who has just returned from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    The Haqqani network is perhaps the most significant threat to stability in Afghanistan, said Levin, a powerful voice in Congress on military affairs as chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

    Levin also advocated increasing attacks against the organisation by Pakistan and by the United States, using unmanned drone strikes. “At the moment, the Haqqani network and their fighters coming over the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan is the greatest threat, at least external threat, to Afghanistan,” Levin said.

    Placement on the State Department’s list would mainly impose legal limits on American citizens and companies, prohibiting trade with the Haqqani network or its leaders and requiring that banks freeze their assets in the United States.

    But Levin noted that the law would also require the United States government to apply pressure on any nation harbouring such a group, in this case Pakistan.

    In Kabul, a spokesman for General Petraeus said he would not comment on any internal discussions.

    But in public General Petraeus has expressed alarm about the network and has talked about his desire to see the Pakistani military act more aggressively against the group’s stronghold in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan.

    In testimony before Congressional committee last month, Petraeus said he viewed the network as a particular danger to the mission in Afghanistan.

    He said he and other senior military officers had shared information with their counterparts in Pakistan that showed the Haqqani network “clearly commanded and controlled” recent attacks in Kabul and against the Bagram Air Base outside Kabul, which is controlled by the United States.

    The focus on a political settlement is likely to intensify next week at a conference in Kabul, to be headed by Karzai and attended by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other officials.

    Karzai recently signed a decree authorising the reintegration of lower-level Taliban fighters, and the American envoy Holbrooke said the meeting would kick off that programme, which will be financed by USD 180 million from Japan, Britain and other countries, as well as USD 100 million in Pentagon funds.

    But Afghan President, the NYT said, is eager to extend an olive branch to higher-level figures as well. His government wants to remove up to 50 of the 137 Taliban names on the United Nations Security Council’s blacklist. Holbrooke said the administration supported efforts to cull the list, but would approve names only on a case-by-case basis.

    Certain figures, like Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, remain out of bounds. For its part, the US is trying to keep the emphasis on the low-level fighters, rather than the leadership.

    The planned American military campaign in Kandahar, officials said, could weaken the position of Taliban leaders, making them more amenable to a settlement.

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