On September 28, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed that she was in “final formal review” of a decision to list the Haqqani Network as a Foreign Terrorist Organization; however she never made that decision. Instead, on October 11, 2011, Secretary Clinton reversed herself and announced that she would welcome the Haqqanis as participants in the Afghan peace process. Despite the fact that the Haqqanis orchestrated the daring September 13, 2011, attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and despite the fact that on September 20, 2011, they murdered the Afghan Government’s peace envoy, Burhanuddin Rabbani, the Haqqanis are now viewed by the State Department as viable partners in peace. Apparently there are “good” terrorists such as the Haqqanis, whom U.S. diplomats will negotiate with, and “bad” terrorists such as Hamas and al-Qaeda who cannot be negotiated with. It is not clear what criteria the State Department uses to distinguish between good and bad terrorists. For example, how many innocent civilians or NATO troops can one kill and still be considered a “good” terrorist? In her speeches, Secretary Clinton has endorsed negotiating with “moderate” Taliban and “reconcilable elements” of the Haqqani, which seems to be more wishful thinking than fact. Her unrealistic and vacillating diplomatic positions have drawn outrage from Republican members of Congress who are urging Secretary Clinton to label the Haqqanis as terrorists. The State Department’s arbitrary terrorist designations and its inconsistent policy about not negotiating with terrorists have also sown confusion in the region.
The reality is that there is no Haqqani “network” as such. Jalaluddin Haqqani and his sons, Siraj and Badruddin Haqqani preside over a larger Haqqani family that is spread across eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan. Like Hisb-allah in Lebanon, the Haqqanis run schools, courts and even factories. They operate a mini-state. As part of the 500,000 member Zadran qalm or tribe, the Haqqanis are an integral part of the region. For example, Badsha (Pacha) Khan Zadran is the brother of Jalaluddin Haqqani, yet he was appointed the Governor of Paktia Province in 2002 and was elected to the Afghan Parliament in 2004. His son Abdul Wali Khan was named the military commander of Gardez Province by President Karzai; another son Kamal was the named the Governor of Khost Province and another son Amanulla served as Interior Minister. A fourth son was killed by U.S. forces in 2003. Ibrahim Haqqani is an uncle of Siraj and Badruddin Haqqani, yet he has worked for the Afghan government and met with U.S. officials as a liaison with the Haqqani family. Nasiruddin Haqqani is the half brother of Siraj and Badruddin. His mother is thought to be from the United Arab Emirates and Nasiruddin was a frequent visitor to the Gulf countries where he raised donations for the war against the Americans. Even Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States is named Haqqani. He is the Honorable Husain Haqqani pictured above. Ambassador Haqqani was born in Karachi and has no relationship with the Haqqani network except to have the same surname, which apparently is fairly common. His photo was included to emphasize how unproductive and amateurish it would be to name everyone Haqqani as a terrorist.
U.S. Government confusion regarding everything Haqqani has led to frustration over the resilience and capabilities of this entrenched rebel group. That has prompted the American government to exaggerate its successes against the organization. For example, on September 30, 2011, the Pentagon announced the capture of Haji Mali Khan, whom it described as “the senior Haqqani commander in Afghanistan.” Upon further inquiry, Time Magazine’s John Wendle discovered that this uncle of Siraj and Badruddin Haqqani was little known and was not among the top five Haqqani commanders in Afghanistan. The U.S. Government had in fact manufactured a false press release that greatly exaggerated Haji Mali’s significance.
Last week the Afghan Analysts Network (AAN) released its report on the Pentagon’s claim that it had killed or captured 675 senior Taliban commanders over the previous 21 months. The study found that the Pentagon may be “slanting” the significance of the persons it killed or captured. Similar exaggerated U.S. claims of senior al-Qaeda members killed prompted Andy Borowitz to write his article for the Huffington Post entitled: “U.S. Kills al-Qaeda’s Number 3 for the Nine Thousandth Time.” Phony victories do not win wars and deteriorating security can only be covered up for so long.
The problem for the U.S. Government is that the clock is running against it. The United States will withdraw another 10,000 troops from Afghanistan over the next 10 weeks, further weakening its position, while Taliban and Haqqani forces are growing. Haqqani troop levels are estimated to be as high as 15,000 and Alissa Rubin of the N.Y. Times, in her 6/19/11 report, estimated current Taliban troop levels to be 40,000, which is an increase from the 35,000 that General Stanley McChrystal estimated in 2010. In analyzing this information it is crucial to remember that the Taliban controlled 98% of the country in 2001, with an army of just 45,000. The Taliban’s current troop levels confirm that it has almost completely reconstituted itself.
General Orya Khalil, an Afghan Corps Commander in Khost, told Time Magazine last week that the number of Haqqani fighters on the border is “increasing day by day.” This follows a sobering interview given on August 9, 2011, by Major General Daniel B. Allyn, NATO commander for Regional Command – East to reporter Bill Ardolino. General Allyn, a native of Berwick, Maine, stated that he has to protect 14 provinces and 450 kilometers of border with Pakistan with only 32,000 Coalition troops. In eastern Afghanistan he faces eight different insurgent and criminal groups, of which the Haqqanis are the most dangerous. He apparently only has the resources to concentrate on 375 kilometers of border, meaning that areas of Kunar and Nuristan provinces have open borders with Pakistan. General Allyn has to-date declined to declare the Haqqanis as “good” terrorists, which puts him at odds with the State Department.
All of this is academic as the Haqqani have no incentive to negotiate with the United States because they see victory as being within their sight. Previous half-hearted U.S. efforts to engage individual Afghan tribes to work against the Taliban and Haqqanis have not met with success, such as in the much-publicized case of the Shinwari tribe. This is all part of the State Department’s lackluster and stagnant civilian surge into Afghanistan, which by all accounts has been a costly failure.
In conclusion, Secretary Clinton’s on-again and off-again courtship of the Haqqanis is not a credible effort. The State Department’s strategy, if it has one, is baffling. The American pre-conditions to the Haqqanis for negotiating are:
1. Lay down your weapons;
2. Reject violence;
3. Accept equality between men and women;
4. Support the Afghan Constitution (which has a lot of critics); and
5. Run candidates for the symbolic and largely powerless Afghan parliament.
As these are the pre-conditions, it is not clear what is left to actually negotiate.
The Haqqani response has apparently been:
1. The Americans and NATO have to leave Afghanistan; and
2. The Afghans will then resolve the war between themselves.
The parties could not be further apart.
If the United States is serious about a negotiated solution to the Afghan conflict, then it should ask the United Nations to sponsor a peace conference in a neutral country in which all the warring factions will be invited under cover of a truce and without any preconditions. This of course will not happen as the U.S. Government has not unified either itself or its allies behind a credible negotiating position that has any chance of success.
Absent a grand compromise, the United States is reduced to trying to bribe fringe Haqqani and Taliban elements to change sides; an effort begun in January 2010, with little success. That lifeless effort apparently is the cornerstone of the State Department’s policy in the region, which is perplexing. The reality is that the security situation in Afghanistan is worse than U.S. officials will publicly admit. As a result they are scrambling for an exit strategy and that strategy is to concoct a scenario in which the Taliban and Haqqani lay down their arms and accept a few crumbs. This fantasy ending is what this author calls “the prayer strategy.” U.S. diplomats have run out of ideas and are simply praying for divine intervention. American and Afghan troops should not be fighting and dying in support of such a feckless strategy. If anyone is confused by all of this please contact Secretary Hillary Clinton at the U.S. Department of State and let her know.
For further reading see: “U.S. Wiggles Around Haqqani Issue” UPI-Asia, 9/27/11, and “When is a Terrorist not a Terrorist? America’s Haqqani Conundrum” by Howard LaFranchi for the Christian Science Monitor, 9/28/11.