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Haqqani Network – the Eye-Sore

By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse, September 23, 2011

The latest spat between the Pakistani and American officials suggests that the Haqqani network continues to cast ominous shadows on the Pak-US relations. Ambassador Cameron Munter first shocked everybody by telling Radio Pakistan that the Pakistan government was linked to the militant network which he believed was responsible for the recent attacks on the US embassy and Nato buildings in Kabul. Immediately thereafter, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta had warned that that the US would retaliate against Pakistan-based insurgents. 

Almost coinciding with these assertions was a meeting between the two military leaderships in Seville, Spain. In this exchange, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman joint chiefs of staff, expressed his ‘deep concern about the increasing and increasingly brazen activities of the Haqqani network.” 

And General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s response was not different either. “It is Pakistan’s sovereign right to formulate policy in accordance with its national interests and the wishes of the Pakistani people,” a statement, the ISPR quoted as saying, leaving little doubt about Pakistan’s view of the Haqqani network. 

A cursory look at the situation between May, when Foreign Secretary Hilary Clinton visited Pakistan to remove frictions in the aftermath of the Osama bin Laden’s elimination, and the latest string of aggressive statements by American officials, suggests the basics of the relationship have hardly changed. 

“We both recognise that there is still much more work required to be done and it is urgent. Today we discussed in even greater detail cooperation to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda and to drive them from Pakistan and the region. Joint action against Al Qaeda and its affiliates will make Pakistan, America and the world more safe and more secure,” Clinton had told a press conference in Islamabad on May 27th, 2011. 

The implicit message in this policy statement was also directed at the Haqqani network. And in his interview with Radio Pakistan, Ambassador Munter went a step forward. “There is evidence linking the Haqqani network to the Pakistan government, this is something that must stop,” Munter had said.

And the Americans got the answer through the ISPR.

Well, that essentially means that the Haqqani Network remains at the heart of the fractious Pakistan-US relationship. The reticence demonstrated by both countries at times makes the issue look more like a matter of ego than of real substance; the US military establishment projects the Haqqanis as the sole source of violence and instability in Afghanistan. Pakistan, on the other hand, points to Mulla Omar and Gulbudin Hekmetyar as the other two components of the nationalist insurgency in Afghanistan. The Americans insist the Haqqanis operate out of North Waziristan, while the Pakistani military establishment snubs this insistence by saying the Haqqanis lord over the entire greater Paktia region (Paktia, Khowst, Paktika).

If the recent statements by the American AfPak envoy Mark Grossman were any indicator, the Americans themselves are pursuing dialogue with Mulla Omar as part of their reconciliation strategy. But they want Pakistan to crackdown on the Haqqanis. Pakistanis fends this off by saying they cannot antagonize the Haqqanis - who belong to the Zadran tribe that straddles both sides of the Durand Line - for the pleasure of the Americans. Pakistani officials also insist they cannot jeopardize the national security interests by going after the militants in North Waziristan in an indiscriminate way because of their tentacles with militant and religio-political outfits based in mainland Pakistan. Any military action, they argue, could amount to shaking up a beehive.

But, it seems, the American establishment refuses to buy this logic. Nor has Pakistan succeeded in conveying clearly as to why a direct action against the Haqqanis is very difficult, if not impossible. They have also failed in vocally explaining to the Americans and other allies on the possible implications for the country.

That is why the questions arises as to whether both countries can negotiate themselves out of a stalemate without the one i.e. Pakistan openly laying open its policy towards a group, the Haqqani Network, that the other side i.e. the US considers detrimental to the interests of the US-led forces and views it as the biggest threat to the Afghan reconciliation and peace? Probably not.

Some foreign diplomats hold the view that unless Pakistani leadership lays its policy rationale and reservations on the table, it will be very difficult to find a middle ground with the Americans on this particular issue. The American interlocutors cannot convince the Congress on Pakistani position if it remains undeclared and ambiguous. You do not negotiate intentions. The talks pre-requisite clearly spelt out policy positions. And this is missing in Pakistan’s engagement with the United States.

The writer heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk