And that was a huge blunder. Unfortunately, if the administration believed that designating the Haqqani network would have any hope of mobilizing Pakistanis to abandon its jihad habit, categorically removing the threat of a State Department designation from the table vitiated any such potential. Pakistan's response will likely be to double down.
There can be no doubt that Pakistan's unrelenting support for the Afghan Taliban and allied militant organizations, of which the Haqqani network is just one of many, has made any kind of victory -- however defined -- elusive if not unobtainable for the United States and its allies. The crux of the matter: The United States and Pakistan have fundamentally divergent strategic interests in Afghanistan. America's allies, such as India, are Pakistan's enemies, while Pakistan's allies, such as the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban, are America's enemies. Unfortunately, Pakistan's ongoing support for these groups has become an altogether easy hook on which the Americans and their allies have hung their failures in Afghanistan.
But even if Pakistan were not actively undermining U.S. and allied efforts in Afghanistan, would the country be any more stable than it was on Sept. 10, 2001? The United States and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan have stumbled from one strategic disaster to another. The delusional belief in population-centric counterinsurgency is simply the latest chimera that plagued international efforts to bring Afghans a modicum of peace and security. The various national missions strewn across Afghanistan under the ISAF banner have been a disjointed disaster; more like a militarized version of Epcot Center than a cohesive effort. Some of the best development projects these national partners have undertaken have been restricted to their own bases and provisional reconstruction teams (PRTs). One of my most memorable moments during a 2009 visit to Afghanistan occurred at a German PRT, notable for its perfectly paved and LED-lit sidewalks, sleeping quarters equipped with duvets and duvet covers and individually heated commodes. That was surprising enough -- but nothing prepared me for the sight of a scantily clad German rollerblading about the perfectly groomed pavement of the PRT. Needless to say, none of this development was in evidence outside the PRT.
Equally disappointing has been the Afghan government, with its own dogged dedication to remaining a narcokleptocracy. For all the hopes placed on him over the years, here is the stark reality: President Karzai has squandered some 11 years and billions of dollars. Had he shown commitment to better governance, less corruption, and greater transparency, his country may have registered gains that could be sustainable. The most recent "news" about corruption strangling the extraction of national resources serves as only the latest reminder of Karzai's impotence and incompetence.
Pakistan certainly hasn't helped in Afghanistan, but the United States must be clear-eyed about the sources of failure. There is plenty of culpability to go around, and the Haqqanis are only part of a much larger story of disorganization, missed opportunities, and intractable obstacles.