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The South Asia Channel

Dealing with the Haqqani Network

During a Senate Armed Services hearing yesterday, Chairmanof the Joint Chiefs ofStaff Adm. Mike alleged what many of us have believed for some time: Elementswithin Pakistan’s security services, perhaps most notably current and retired Inter-ServicesIntelligence Directorate (ISI) officials, provide operational support andresources for the Haqqani Network to wage their insurgency against U.S.,coalition and Afghan forces ...

FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images

During a Senate Armed Services hearing yesterday, Chairmanof the Joint Chiefs ofStaff Adm. Mike alleged what many of us have believed for some time: Elementswithin Pakistan’s security services, perhaps most notably current and retired Inter-ServicesIntelligence Directorate (ISI) officials, provide operational support andresources for the Haqqani Network to wage their insurgency against U.S.,coalition and Afghan forces inside Afghanistan.

"With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conductedthat truck bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy," Mullen toldthe committee, referencing a massive bomb attack on a NATO base September10 as well as last week’s attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul. "We also havecredible evidence that they were behind the June 28th attack against theInter-Continental Hotel in Kabul and a host of other smaller but effectiveoperations," he added.

By my count, there have been at least 15 other high-profileattacks going back to 2008 that can be publicly linked to the Haqqani networkbesides the attacks on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul earlierthis month. These include several complex attacks in Afghanistan’s southeastthat involved suicide car bombs and gunmen armed with explosives and AK-47s,the bombing of the Indianembassy in Kabul that killed 41 and injured over 130 in July 2008, amulti-pronged attack on Afghan ministriesand the prison directorate in Kabul that killed 26 in February 2009, an assaulton a Kabul Bank branch that killed more than 40 in February of this year, andperhaps most notably, a complex nighttimeassault on Kabul’s Intercontinental hotel during the height of this summer’sfighting season. During the attack on the Intercontinental, Afghan intelligenceinterceptedcalls between the attackers and Badruddin Haqqani who was directingthe assault from Pakistan. Furthermore, the Pakistani military has assisted theHaqqani network’s expansion from North Waziristan into neighboring KurramAgency over the past year. This will provide the network with even moresanctuary and additional infiltration routes into southeastern Afghanistan.

But what can the United States do about this support for theHaqqanis? While it is important to maintain a relationship with Pakistan, it’salso necessary to distinguish between the civilian and military component ofour support. Pakistan’s civilian leadership is not the harbinger of adecades-long policy of support for proxy groups such as the Haqqani network.And although the civilian government nominally controls the military, that’snot the case in practice. Therefore, any restriction on U.S. aid should becareful not to punish civil society.

Senior military leaders, such as army chief Gen. AshfaqParvez Kayani and ISI head Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, are the folks the U.S.need to be talking to. However, pressuring the military (of which ISI is apart) to take action against the Haqqanis is a non-starter. No possiblecombination of aidrestrictions, sanctions or public chastisement is capable of changing the military’srelationship with the Haqqanis at this point, not with U.S. forces inAfghanistan on the decline and the belief in Pakistan’s military circles thatthe U.S. is not going to succeed in Afghanistan still prevalent. The onlyconceivable solution at this point is to go after high-value Haqqani targets evenmore aggressively than before. There is a senior leadershipcadre that, if removed from the fight, would have significant effects on thenetwork’s command and control infrastructure. The Haqqanis are different fromother groups, such as the Pakistan Taliban, in this regard. The seniorleadership corps is based on familial relations, is extremely closely knit, is directlyresponsible for strategic, operational and often tactical guidance, and is theonly trusted group that liaises with elements of the Pakistani securityservices and the leadership of affiliatedterrorist groups in the tribal areas. The removal of the top-tierleadership, coupled with increased pressure on the group in easternAfghanistan, offers the best chance to degrade and possibly even neutralize thenetwork.

After Mullen’s comments, it’s pretty clear that some reallytough decisions will have to be made with respect to the Haqqani’s sanctuary inPakistan — despite Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s recent remarksthat the country will never allow U.S. boots on Pakistani soil. Just today, Kayanistarkly rejected the allegations of a Pakistan-Haqqani relationship in responseto Mullen’s testimony. Of course, any possible U.S. action in Pakistan willhave consequences — but those consequences may not have as serious impact as somebelieve. Pakistan has the ability to shut down critical supply lines runningfrom their port city of Karachi to Afghanistan. However, given the military’sown economicinterests in keeping the lines open and the myriad criminal actors whoselivelihoods depend on taxing and extorting truckers, any long-term shutdown ismost likely a hollow threat. The United States has already explored increasing thecapacity of the northerndistribution network that has expanded significantly over the past severalyears.

Certainly, Pakistan has the ability to respond militarily tounilateral action in their tribal areas, but this would likely cause a completebreak in relations, and with that, an end to all militaryassistance that is critical not only for the Army’s strength and survivalbut also their influence over Pakistan’s civilian leadership. The United States withheld$800 million in military aid this summer which is only onethird of promised security assistance. Holding back or canceling the totalpackage would be a real blow to Pakistan’s armed forces.

Additionally, limited U.S. unilateral action in Pakistan’stribal areas, at least conceptually, is not much different than the currentU.S. drone program that regularly strikes targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas.Since the Pakistani military and government have largely ignored sovereigntyclaims and acquiesced to the drone strikes, it isn’t a stretch to assume thatthey could treat limited, unilateral raids into the tribal areas in the samemanor — even after Malik’s statement. Speculation aside, the only thing that seemsclear amidst all the confusion is that if the U.S. doesn’t follow through, ourwords will have even less meaning than they already do.

Jeffrey Dressler is a senior analyst at the Institute forthe Study of War and author of the ISW report, "The Haqqani Network: FromPakistan to Afghanistan."

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