In September 2011, Adm. Mike Mullen, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, astonished the American public when he declared at a congressional hearing that the network of Jalaluddin Haqqani was a "virtual arm" of Pakistan's top spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate. Pakistanis were surprised, as Mullen had been one of the most outspoken defenders of Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies and their efforts to combat Islamist terrorists within Pakistan. Since Mullen's head-turning testimony, pressure has continued to mount on the Obama administration, forcing it take a stronger position on Pakistan's intransigent support for one of the most lethal organizations killing Americans and allied forces in Afghanistan.
On Sept. 7, after considerable hemming and hawing, the Obama administration finally announced it would designate the so-called Haqqani network as a foreign terrorist organization. The call was long overdue. Members of the Haqqani network move back and forth between Pakistan's North Waziristan Agency (and other localities) as well as the Paktiya, Paktika, and Khost provinces of Afghanistan. The network provides sanctuary, manpower, weapons, financing, and other amenities to several other terrorist and insurgent networks such as the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, and al Qaeda, among others. Its financial assets are vast and derive from numerous illicit and licit activities spanning South Asia and the Middle East. The Haqqani network is behind some of the most devastating and complex attacks against United States, NATO, and Afghan forces. U.S. officials hold it responsible for the 2008 assault on the Indian Embassy in Kabul, last September's attack on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters employing rocket-propelled grenades, assassination attempts against President Hamid Karzai and other leaders, as well as numerous kidnappings.
The Obama administration touted its decision to list the Haqqanis as an important step in being able to go after the vast resources of the network -- never mind that the move was taken under considerable congressional pressure.
Why the long wait? Listing the Haqqanis was always considered sensitive because Pakistan views the network as one of its few reliable assets to shape Afghanistan in desirable directions, including restraining India's influence and physical presence. Given the tenterhooks upon which U.S.-Pakistan relations have hung over the last two years, critics of the decision will argue it amounts to further provocation for little payoff. Moreover, some in the U.S. State Department thought that the Haqqani network deserved a seat at the negotiating table even if doing so served no other purpose than placating Pakistan, according my discussions with an array of U.S. officials. Others feared that declaring the Haqqanis a foreign terrorist organization would lead to greater insistence from Congress and other quarters to label Pakistan itself a state that supports terrorism -- a club populated by Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. For this reason, the administration went to great lengths to clarify that this move does not pave the way for putting Pakistan on that inauspicious list.