Will US terrorist label for Haqqani network push Pakistan into a corner?

Secretary of State Clinton officially designated the militant Haqqani network as a terrorist organization, raising concern among analysts that this could hurt US-Pakistani relations.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signed documents on Friday declaring the Haqqani network a foreign terrorist organization – a potential blow to US-Pakistan relations according to Pakistani analysts.

The Haqqani network has long been a source of contention between the two countries. The US sees the group as a threat to NATO forces across the border, and a threat to Afghanistan's long-term stability as the US plans to withdraw next year. The network has been blamed for high-profile attacks, including one on the US Embassy in Kabul and the 2008 kidnapping of New York Times reporter David Rohde.

Though Pakistan denies having close ties with the group, it has repeatedly dodged US pressure to carry out operations against the group. Analysts say that the Pakistani security establishment sees the Haqqani network as a key ally after US forces withdraw in 2014. The result is that the two countries have two fundamentally different perceptions of security policy in the region – perceptions that frequently put them at loggerheads.

“The decision narrows the terms on which the US wants to engage with Pakistan by clearly stating that Pakistan will have to move against the Haqqani network,” says political analyst Ayesha Siddiqa. “It indicates a perception gap between the US and the Pakistani security establishment. Pakistan wants to keep its eggs in many baskets to ensure that their interests are safeguarded. The US wants it to have one clear policy – that happens to agree with the American one. The problem is that Pakistan might not be able to deliver,” she says.

Ms. Siddiqa argues that there is little indication that any policy toward the Haqqani network within Pakistan will actually change. According to Siddiqa, the Pakistani security establishment does not necessarily have the capacity to fight the Haqqani network

As such, it’s widely seen as a step backward for the two countries.

“If the United States wants to have a constructive relationship with Pakistan, then this is a bad move. This will push Pakistan into a corner,” an unnamed high level official told Reuters. 

Pakistan has frequently argued that its forces are stretched thin, and that the country has already lost up to 35,000 people since Sept. 11. Public opinion has also deteriorated when it comes to US foreign policy, especially after the blowback following the CIA agent who killed two Pakistanis early last year and repeated drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas.

The State Department’s designation of the Haqqani network as a Foreign Terrorist Organization would mean the Haqqani network would be subject to sanctions. It would also subject anyone providing material support to the group to criminal penalties.

Jalaluddin Haqqani created the network when he served as a leader in the insurgency against Soviet occupation during the 1980s. He served in the Taliban government after the Soviets left, and retired in 2005, handing over day-to-day operations to his son, Sirajuddin Haqqani.

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