Haqqani Network Snags Plan for Pullout; Pakistan Protects Terrorist Faction

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Byline: Ashish Kumar Sen, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Continued support from Pakistan's military and intelligence agency for a major Islamic terrorist network is hamstringing the Obama administration's efforts to withdraw U.S. troops from neighboring Afghanistan, according to Western officials and analysts.

Pakistani officials have resisted U.S. pressure to crack down on the so-called Haqqani Network, which shelters Taliban and al Qaeda militants who travel unimpeded between their safe havens in Pakistan and the battlefields in Afghanistan.

In what a Western diplomat described as a quid pro quo arrangement, the network, in return for safe passage across the border, refrains from attacking Pakistani interests and encourages the Taliban to fight in Afghanistan.

The Haqqani Network has become a significant source of tension between Washington and Islamabad, said the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, a report from Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee warned that the United States must overhaul its aid to Afghanistan to avert a possible economic collapse when U.S. troops leave in 2014.

Afghanistan could suffer a severe economic depression when foreign troops leave in 2014 unless proper planning begins now, the report said.

The Haqqani Network, led by the father-son duo Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani, operates in North Waziristan, which abuts Afghanistan. The group has headquarters in and around Miram Shah, the region's capital.

Ties between Pakistani military and intelligence and the Haqqanis remain strong in some cases, and that's extremely problematic, said a U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity citing the sensitive nature of the subject.

We've asked the Pakistanis for assistance to pressure the Haqqanis, and they should frankly do more to thwart the actions of a group that stages attacks against U.S. forces on the other side of the border in Afghanistan, the U.S. official added.

Proxy for Pakistanis

Jeffrey Dressler, a research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War who has investigated the Haqqani Network, said Pakistan's security establishment views the group as its proxy to extend Pakistani influence inside Afghanistan.

The Pakistani military and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency also use the Haqqanis as a tool to check India's influence in Afghanistan by attacking diplomatic missions and other interests of its regional archenemy, he added.

The Haqqanis are thought to have orchestrated many high-profile attacks in Afghanistan, including an assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai and suicide attacks on the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July 2008 and October 2009.

The network's ability to persuade many Pakistani Taliban to fight in Afghanistan rather than attack the Pakistani state is significant, Mr. Dressler said.

Elements in Pakistan's security services in the past have warned the Haqqanis of impending U.S. Predator drone strikes and even taken them into custody to protect them from those attacks.

Pakistan denies supporting the Haqqani Network. Pakistani officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Imtiaz Gul, who heads the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad, said Pakistan's military and the ISI are making conscious efforts to redefine their relationship with the Haqqani Network since the death of Osama bin Laden on May 2. The al Qaeda leader was killed in a Navy SEALs raid on his hide-out in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad, about 60 miles from the capital, Islamabad.

Pakistan itself has refrained from direct attacks on the network, but has never objected to raids on the Haqqani clan, Mr. Gul said.

Mohammed Haqqani, a son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, was killed in a drone strike last year.

Western officials are counting on an improvement in the security situation to justify the start of a withdrawal of U. …