WASHINGTON - In a report to Congress on Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton formally designated the Haqqani network — responsible for some of the deadliest attacks against American troops in Afghanistan — as a terrorist organisation, two days before a Congressional deadline, reported New York Times.
Mrs Clinton signed the order in Brunei before departing to Vladivostok, Russia, for the annual Asia Pacific Economic Conference, and State Department officials began notifying senior lawmakers. She issued the report after a last round of internal debate that took place in Washington on Thursday hours before President Obama spoke at the Democratic National Convention.
Mrs Clinton and others had already discussed the issue with their counterparts in Pakistan, and the administration’s special envoy, Marc Grossman, was expected to formally inform Pakistan’s leaders on Friday.
The decision culminates nearly two years of spirited debate inside the administration that reached a peak in the past month under the pressure of Sunday’s reporting deadline.
Several State Department and military officials had argued that designating the organisation would help strangle the group’s fund-raising activities in countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and pressure Pakistan to open a long-expected military offensive against the militants.
Many other senior officials, including several in the White House, expressed deep reservations that blacklisting the group could further damage badly frayed relations with Pakistan, undercut peace talks with the Taliban and possibly jeopardise the fate of Sgt Bowe Bergdahl, the only American soldier known to be held by the militants.
But in the past few days, supporters of designating the group apparently eased most concerns or put forward contingencies to mitigate the risks and potential consequences.
“This shows that we are using everything we can to put the squeeze on these guys,” said one administration official who was involved in the process, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity on Thursday because the decision had not yet been formally announced.
Another senior administration official said the designation “is a very strong signal of our resolve to combat the Haqqanis.”
Critics had contended that a designation by the Treasury Department or the United Nations could achieve largely the same result as adding the network to the much more prominent State Department list, with far fewer consequences.
But many senior counterterrorism officials as well as top American military officers, including Gen John Allen, commander of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan, had said designating the organisation should be a top priority.
“FTO designation could reduce a critical capability of the Haqqani network by increasing the cost of doing business, reducing access to capital, and constraining the network’s financial resources, thereby limiting their freedom to operate in a local, regional, and international context,” Jeffrey Dressler, senior Afghanistan analyst for the Institute for the Study of War, a research organisation, said in a paper issued this week, referring to foreign terrorist organisations.
Mr Dressler said the Haqqani network’s business interests stretched from Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the Persian Gulf, and included car dealerships, money exchanges and construction companies, import-export operations and smuggling networks.
Since 2008, Haqqani suicide attackers have struck the American Embassy and Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, as well as the headquarters of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and hotels and restaurants there.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday announced that the Haqqani network, blamed for a series of attacks in Afghanistan, met the criteria to be designated a terrorist group.
"Today, I have sent a report to Congress saying that the Haqqani Network meets the statutory criteria of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) for designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO)," Clinton said.
Despite concerns that such a move could impact already tense ties with Islamabad, Clinton added in a statement that she had met a Congress deadline and told US lawmakers she intended to press ahead with the designation.
"We also continue our robust campaign of diplomatic, military, and intelligence pressure on the network, demonstrating the United States' resolve to degrade the organisation's ability to execute violent attacks," she said.
Clinton said she was taking the action "in the context of our overall strategy in Afghanistan" under a five-point policy laid out by President Barack Obama when he visited Afghanistan in May.
These include boosting the ability of Afghan security forces to fight insurgents as Nato-led forces transition to handing the lead for security to their Afghan counterparts and encouraging an Afghan reconciliation.
"We will continue to work with both Afghanistan and Pakistan to move these efforts forward and build a more peaceful and secure future," Clinton added in the statement.
Reuters adds from Islamabad: The United States’ decision to designate the Haqqani network as a terrorist organisation shows it is not sincere about peace efforts in Afghanistan, senior commanders of the group said on Friday.
The move will also bring hardship for US Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who is being held by the militants, the commanders told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Senior commanders from the network said the decision to designate the group as terrorists could endanger efforts to reach a peaceful settlement to the Afghan conflict before most Nato combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014.
“It means the United States is not sincere in their talks. They are on the one hand claiming to look for a political solution to the Afghan issue while on the other they are declaring us terrorists,” said one of the commanders. “So how can peace talks succeed in bringing peace to Afghanistan?”
“Until now we treated him very well but this move by the United States will of course created hardships for him,” another Haqqani commander told Reuters.