Secretary Clinton’s Haqqani Diplomacy
One of the main goals of statecraft and diplomacy is to affect behavior changes in state and non-state actors via the application of leverage. The timing of the decision to designate the Haqqani Network as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) at the State Department represents a case study in Secretary Clinton’s effective use of diplomacy to modify the behavior of Pakistan’s civilian government.
Presented in the media these past weeks as a symbolic, internal maneuver, the designation of the Haqqani Network was actually a step toward labeling the state of Pakistan, and its Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI), as a state sponsor of terror.
The seeming hesitancy of the Obama Administration to move beyond the designation of a few key leaders of the Haqqani by the U.S. Treasury to a full form sanction of the group as a whole is only intelligible in terms of U.S.-Pakistan relations.
The American people, for years, have been following the bloody exploits of the Haqqani Network. Hundreds of terror operations and IED attacks that have killed NATO Coalition soldiers, Afghan security forces, and civilians have convinced both houses of the U.S. Congress that the Haqqani Network is not just a faction of the Taliban, but should be recognized and dealt with as a stand alone terror organization. The question at bar, this last month, has been whether or not the ISI is complicit in or influential in the Haqqani Network’s activities.
Salala Incident Frays US-Pak Relations
U.S.-Pakistani ties, long strained by the Bush and Obama usage of intelligence driven drone strike assassinations in Pakistan’s tribal belt, lay nearly severed after the unannounced kill or capture mission on a compound in Abottabad, Pakistan netted the mastermind of the 9/11 atrocity, Osama bin Laden, last May. The relationship, termed an essential “partnership” by a young Obama Administration, turned icy in November after NATO helicopters and fighter aircraft mistakenly attacked two check posts in the Salala region of Pakistan across the Afghan border, killing 24 and wounding 13 Pak security forces.
The immediate impact of the Salala incident was felt in the closure of the NATO supply lines by the Pakistani government. Five months later, on April 12, Pakistan’s Parliament passed a 14-point resolution demanding an apology and assurances from the United States.
By May 2012, the prospect of competition with Iran thawed the U.S.-Pakistan divide, when it became common knowledge that India, Pakistan’s avowed mortal enemy, was financing the second phase of the Iranian port’s development.
Sensing that the time was right to patch up relations, the Obama Administration moved to influence the posture of Pakistan’s three distinct nodes of power: the Pak Military, the ISI, and the civilian government.
Strangely, the diplomatic process began with a continuation of the criticism of Pakistan. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, on June 7, claimed that the United States was “reaching the limit” of its patience with Pakistan’s inability to knock out cells of terrorists launching cross border strikes into Afghanistan.
On June 14, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar responded to Leon Panetta’s claim that the United States was losing patience with Pakistan for not doing more to disrupt terror cells, saying “Pakistan still wants an unconditional apology and reassurances that the Salala type of incident does not happen again.”
Notably, Khar’s call for an apology fell on the heels of a defense panel for the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 13, in which Senator Dianne Feinstein asked Leon Panetta if a U.S. apology which acknowledged mistakes made on both sides would be in order if the national security of the United States and the proper maintenance of NATO supply lines would indeed be best served by a “positive relationship” with Pakistan.
Within weeks an apology was decided upon. On July 2, Hillary Clinton dialed up Foreign Minister Khar and apologized for Pakistani losses suffered in the Salala incident and assured her that the United States was committed to working closely with both Pakistan and Afghanistan to make sure the mistakes were not repeated. The Obama Administration announced that it would release $1.2 billion to the Coalition Support Funds in conjunction with Secretary Clinton’s gesture. FM Khar, accepting the apology, waved the demand for fees along the supply line. NATO’s supply lines through Karachi were restored.
The Case Against the Haqqani Network
Secretary Clinton’s close working relationships with the late Special Envoy to the AfPak, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and with former Obama Advisor for the Central Region, Dennis Ross, in his stint at the State Department instilled her with a sharp awareness of the importance of wielding leverage to shape diplomatic negotiations. To successfully re-forge the strategic U.S.-Pakistani partnership, Hillary would have to sidestep the Pakistan Military leadership and the ISI to work directly with the civilian government.
What no one saw coming in the effort to mend U.S.-Pakistan relations, though, was the capacity of American scholars and researchers to provide Secretary Clinton the leverage she had been missing for years – proof of the Haqqani Network’s links to the ISI and overwhelming evidence of its symbiotic relationship with the culture of jihadi terror and criminal enterprise.
Rassler and Brown Reveal Haqqani-ISI Ties
In 2005, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point launched the Harmony Program to release translated documents of the Al-Qaeda Network captured on the fields of Iraq and Afghanistan for scholarly research. The documents were gathered on the battlefield, so they often lack contextual markers. Little emphasis was placed on captured Urdu and Pashto documents, initially. However, by 2011, the Harmony Program had delved into thousands of letters by Haqqani leaders in the ’80s and ’90s, and over a thousand pages of propaganda magazines released by the group from 1989 to 1993.
After analyzing these captured documents from the Defense Department’s Harmony Database and mounting an investigative project complete with interviews of Pakistanis and Afghans that had conducted business with the Haqqani Network, Don Rassler and Vahid Brown released a startling report on July 14, 2011.
The Haqqani Nexus and the Evolution of al-Qaida drew the picture of an organization that operated for four decades on local, regional and global levels, “…the most under appreciated dimension of which is the global character of the Haqqani network and the central role it has played in the evolution of al-Qa’ida and the global jihadi movement.”
Rassler and Brown relate that Jalaluddin Haqqani called for jihad on the central government in Kabul a full six years before the Russian intervention in 1979 and collected funds from Gulf donors and facilitated fighters in Loya Paktiya long before Abdullah Azzam began recruiting Arabs for the internationalized jihad.
The focus on the Arab phenomenon led by Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan masked our understanding of the crucial space provided by the Haqqani for Taliban and Al-Qaeda jihadi activity. Indeed, Jalaluddin’s training camp at Zhawara would be retrofitted and fortified by bin Laden in the late ’80s and by the late ’90s it was the central training center for new al Qaeda recruits. As the war wound down in Afghanistan and Russian troops withdrew, Jalaluddin increased his jihadist rhetoric, pointing to America as the next enemy Islam would face. To drive the message home, Jalaluddin began releasing a propaganda magazine in Pashto entitled Manba’ al-Jihad, which translates to The Fountainhead of Jihad.
The Harmony Program report crystallized the connections between the ISI and the Haqqani into historical fact. During the mujahidin war against Russia, a third of the supplies directed to the Afghan front from the ISI went through the Haqqani base at Zhawara. Jalaluddin was one of the ISI’s favorite field commanders. The capture of Khost in 1991 was a joint ISI-Haqqani operation. Communications logs between Haqqani commanders and the ISI in this period, available in the Harmony Database, show a heavily involved intelligence agency, shaping the activities of the inter-linked Afghan mujahidin.
Jalaluddin Haqqani joined the Taliban in 1995. It is clear that the Haqqani Network’s leadership grew closer with Al-Qaeda following 9/11, due to its nexus capacity to provide training space, ideological recruits drawn from a pool of roughly 10,000 to 15,000 fighters, and protection for those devising terrorist attacks in Afghanistan against Coalition forces and beyond. The relationship has proved multi-generational with the hand-over of operational command by Jalaluddin to his son Sirajuddin in 2005.
The CTC Harmony Program Haqqani Nexus report shows the ISI’s three decades long connections to and strategic manipulation of the Haqqani Network. This relationship is at the heart of U.S-Pakistan tensions, today. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, from 2008 through 2011 issued this double-gaming complaint to his Pakistani military counterparts on numerous occasions.
The July report hit home. By November 2011, a sixth Haqqani leader had been designated as a terrorist by the United States. And on December 7, 2011 Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) along with 15 co-sponsors introduced the legislation marked up as S.1959: The Haqqani Network Terrorist Designation Act of 2012 to blacklist the entire organization.
Dressler Maps the Haqqani Strategic Threat
By March of 2012, Jeffrey Dressler of the Institute for the Study of War released an in-depth analysis of the strategic threat that the Haqqani Network represents to Afghan and U.S. interests. According to Dressler, all indications as of March 2012 were that the relations between the ISI and the Haqqani network would likely “deepen and expand” as the Haqqani proved their resilience and capacity to take up where the Afghan Taliban force, fighting Coalition forces in the south, diminished in presence and effectiveness.
As of September 1, 2012, the United States had launched 313 drone strikes in Pakistan, 95% of which were in North and South Waziristan. One of the major targets is Miramshah. According to the Dressler report, “The Haqqanis run a shadow government administration in Miramshah and its neighboring villages, which includes courts, recruiting centers, tax offices, and training centers for recruits and suicide bombers…[and] continue to use North Waziristan as their command and supply hub for the fight across the border in Afghanistan, despite U.S. attacks targeting senior al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists under the protection of the Haqqanis…”
Complete with infiltration routes, base and safe house locations, network leadership and “spectacular attack” maps, the ISW report, The Haqqani Network: A Strategic Threat, identifies nine northern Afghan power brokers assassinated by the Haqqani in 2010 and 2011, which includes one provincial Governor, a member of Afghanistan’s Parliament and two District Governors.
Notably, Dressler’s assessment of the growing Haqqani threat and its capacity to destabilize Kabul leads him to conclude that it will take at least two full fighting seasons to quell the Haqqani advance. In this, he calls for a halt to any further troop withdrawals after the September 2012 draw down to 68,000 and notes that only an aggressive offensive in Loya Paktia could degrade the insurgent threat.
Peters Isolates the Haqqani Finance Network
Counter terror finance expert, Gretchen Peters, who awakened the world to the realities of the Afghan poppy culture in the 2009 release Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and Al Qaeda, joined forces with the Harmony Program at West Point’s Counter Terrorism Center in October of 2010. The result was the July 2012 report Haqqani Network Financing: The Evolution of an Industry that argues the case that “…over three decades of war, the Haqqanis have evolved into an efficient, transnational jihadi industry…” For the first time, extensive proof drawn from the Harmony Database combined with subcontractor interviews with local sources close to the group presents the Haqqani Network as a Mafia-styled group in both structure and operations, whose financial activities are centered around extortion, kidnapping for ransom, smuggling, taxing other smuggling rings and money laundering. The Haqqanis are involved in real estate, have shadow ownership stakes in construction outfits as well as logistics companies and import-export firms. The network is naturally at the head of a madrassa network, and draws on donations from patrons and partners in the Gulf, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Haqqani Network’s primary vulnerabilities appear to be its family-centric command structure and occasional cash flow and resupply interruptions. The Peters report is instructive on how to tackle the group: “Although the group is now under considerable military pressure, the Haqqanis have never had to deal with a sustained and systematic campaign against their financial infrastructure. In partnership with the ongoing tactical campaign, a stepped-up effort to identify and disrupt Haqqani business activities could degrade the network’s capacity to project power and conduct violence.”
What becomes apparent through the evolution of the Haqqani Network’s financial history is that in 2005, with the hand over of operational power from Jalaluddin to his son, Sirajuddin, the group embarked on a diversification campaign that ensured complete autonomy from Pakistani governmental control: “Some analysts credit Sirajuddin with the vision to muscle into illicit enterprises such as timber and chromite smuggling, and say the network has become flush with money under his direction and has achieved greater independence from the ISI.”
Perhaps the most lucrative niche in the endeavor to consolidate power in Waziristan and Loya Paktia is the collection of protection money from contractors working with the NATO Coalition, USAID and other NGOs during road and project construction, since “…the Haqqanis extort between 10 and 25 percent of the value of each construction project in their control zones…” Thus, the United States, in its effort to fund development efforts, may be paying for the guns and explosives that will eventually kill those that would benefit by the public works, not to mention American soldiers.
The limits of uncovering the licit and illicit trails of Haqqani Network finance are, at present, limited to the upper rungs of the organization. Information on mid to low-level Haqqani fund handlers is scarce. Some in Loya Paktiya claim that “…the network uses trusted Hawaladars and traders in the bazaars to help save money, and U.S. military intelligence is aware that trusted cash couriers help to transport money to and from network commanders inside Afghanistan.” Apparently, trusted hawaladars often hale from the Zadran tribe.
In the concluding solutions offered in her book Seeds of Terror, Gretchen Peters speaks to the problem of illegal money transfers: “Donor nations should support, even subsidize, efforts to help Afghanistan and Pakistan establish cost-free reporting mechanisms for the hawala network and use the vast data bank of information the hawaladars have to help fight crime, rather than move criminal money.”
Had officials in Washington moved on this suggestion and pushed Kabul to regulate the hawala culture in Afghanistan three years ago, would the Haqqani Network be as robust, today? It is hard to tell. In fact, perhaps one of the most disturbing elements of the Peters report was the fact that investigators following threads of Haqqani corruptions often followed the source to Kabul. One former investigator of the Afghan Threat Finance Cell, remarked “Every time we pulled back the cover on an illegal business connected to the Haqqanis, it led back to someone senior in the Karzai government.”
Pakistan’s Modified Behavior
The power of American scholarship and the Harmony Program’s effectiveness in modifying state and non-state actors should not be dismissed. That modification capacity was apparent, first, here in America.
Following the release of Rassler and Brown’s July 2011 report The Haqqani Nexus and the Evolution of al-Qaida, elements of the U.S. Senate mobilized to blacklist the Haqqani Network.
Recognizing the new dynamic of anti-Haqqani sentiment in U.S. political circles, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the new leader of Al-Qaeda, perhaps too impulsively, sought to consolidate the Haqqani Network into the Afghan war effort and moved to capitalize on the closure of the NATO supply routes after the Salala incident.
Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal, on January 3, 2012 announced that Al-Qaeda had brokered a deal over the course of three meetings in late 2011 to unify the major elements of the Taliban into an anti-US alliance called Shura-e-Murakeba. The alliance included the Tehreek-e-Taliban of Pakistan (TTP), the Haqqani Network, the Afghan Taliban, and two groups of fighters loyal to Hafiz Gul Bahadar and Mullah Nazir. By declaring a ceasefire against Pakistan targets and redirecting all energies against NATO Coalition forces, the alliance sought to remove any immediate cause for reciprocal legislative actions by Pakistan’s civilian government by removing the TTP thorn from the side of the Pak Military leadership.
Reconciliation with Haqqani not a Factor in Designation
Many reports in recent weeks characterized the Obama Administration’s hesitancy to blacklist the Haqqani Network as a blow to negotiations and an obstacle to peace talks with the Taliban.
Jeffrey Dressler’s September 5, 2012 background report, The Haqqani Network: A Foreign Terrorist Organization, acknowledges that preliminary efforts in August of 2011 to reach out to the Haqqani Network for talks were pursued by the State Department, but notes the engagement effort did not amount to a negotiation: “Instead, the Haqqanis responded with two massive attacks on the tenth anniversary of 9/11…. Furthermore, in March 2012, the Taliban abruptly ended all outreach efforts and have since been adamant that they are no longer interested in talks.”
Concerns that the designation of the Haqqani Network as a Foreign Terrorist Organization at the State Department could upend peace negotiations with the Haqqani Network or the Taliban are unfounded. As to the Haqqani, all evidence points to an intractable, irreconcilable, profiteering and extraordinarily lethal jihadist entity aiming to destabilize Kabul and kill Coalition soldiers.
The ISI Chief Travels to DC
The case against the Haqqani Network built by Rassler and Brown, Dressler, and Peters over the course of the last year amounted to the proof and evidence Hillary Clinton required to link the ISI to Haqqani activities. It was no longer the agitation of a frustrated Joint Chiefs Chairman.
On July 27, 2012, both the House and the Senate of the U.S. Congress, voted unanimously to blacklist the Haqqani Network. Less than a week later, the ISI chief, Lieutenant General Zaheer ul-Islam arrived in Washington for a scheduled sit down with his counterpart, CIA Director General David Petraeus and the AfPak Special Envoy Marc Grossman at Langley and a policy meeting at the State Department with Lt. General Douglas E. Lute, President Obama’s Afghanistan and Pakistan coordinator.
The night before the official meetings, Lt. General Zaheer ul-Islam would have dinner with the Pakistani Ambassador Sherry Rehman on his visit. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator John Kerry, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relation Committee, and Congressman Mike Rogers, the Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee and the CIA Deputy Director Mike Morrell dined with the ISI chief.
Details of the meeting have not yet leaked to the press, but what is certain is that the ISI Chief left Washington fully cognizant of the capacity of the scholar and expert community in the United States to track any future ISI involvement in the supply of weapons and munitions to the Haqqani network.
Pakistan’s Parliament Moves on Anti-Terror Proposal
On August 10, President Obama signed into law the bill passed by the U.S. Congress to push Secretary Clinton to designate the Haqqani Network as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) at the State Department or to provide her reasons for not designating the group in a written report to Congress within 30 days.
It was hard to determine, why Clinton would not immediately add the Haqqani Network to the list. On a trip to Asia at the end of August, Clinton shook off attempts by journalists to get a yes or no on the question of designation, saying “I’d like to underscore that we are putting steady pressure on the Haqqanis.”
A week later, on Wednesday, September 6, the Pakistani Parliament approved the proposal for a new bill known as The Fair Trial Act of 2012. The bill revamped Pakistan’s internal efforts at fighting terrorism by providing law enforcement with the capacity to utilize modern techniques to collect evidence and increased the civilian regulatory control over the powers of the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. More importantly, the Cabinet approved the Anti-Terrorism Amendment to the 1997 Act, which strengthens Pakistan’s capacity to freeze and seize assets and force the forfeiture of assets and properties of those responsible for financing terrorism. The amendment, which was initially drafted two years ago, was now in play.
The following day, on September 7, after news of this Pakistani Anti-Terror Amendment was approved, Secretary Clinton announced her decision to designate the Haqqani Network as an FTO at the State Department in a press briefing in Vladivostok, Russia. Notably, the blacklisting of the group criminalizes “providing material support or resources to, or engaging in other transactions with the Haqqani Network” and freezes all interests in property under U.S. jurisdiction.
Conclusion: Hillary Clinton’s Haqqani Diplomacy
Pakistan’s Washington Embassy spokesman responded to the news of the Haqqani Designation, saying “This is an internal matter for the United States.” Hauntingly, the spokesman added “The Haqqanis are not Pakistani nationals.”
Armed with the ability to sanction individuals in the Gulf and Afghanistan that sponsor the Haqqani Network, the State Department now holds the fresh prospect of the Pakistani civilian government sanctioning those financing the Haqqani terrorists in Pakistan.
The possibility of designating Pakistan as a state sponsor of terror was averted through Hillary Clinton’s nimble usage of leverage to modify the behavior of the ISI and civilian government. Thanks to this diligent statecraft of the Secretary, aided by the American academic community’s case against the Haqqani Network, the U.S.-Pakistan strategic partnership was mended.
U.S. officials responding to the designation assured the concerned journalists in attendance, “We are making absolutely no effort to begin a process to designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism.”
Gary H. Johnson, Jr. is the Senior Advisor for International Security Affairs at the Victory Institute and a Level I Researcher at Wikistrat