On Wednesday, news agencies reported that General David Petraeus, the new U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, is pushing to designate top leaders from the Haqqani Network as “terrorists.” According to the NY Times, “…Petraeus introduced the idea of blacklisting the group…late last week in discussions with President Obama’s senior advisers on Pakistan and Afghanistan.” The idea was first publicized by Senator Carl Levin on Tuesday, who just returned from Pakistan and Afghanistan. During a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Levin stated,
As a matter of fact, I think we have to include on the list other threats to the Afghan mission. We have to have, I believe, we should have on our list the headquarters of the Haqqani network. We know where they are. We know where that headquarters is… I don’t think they should be off-limits to those strikes. They directly threaten the Afghan mission.
Levin went on to add that he would pursue legislative action to ensure the Haqqani network was on the U.S. terror list, calling them “the greatest threat” to stability in Afghanistan, even more so than Taliban militants crossing the border into the country from Pakistan.
So what could this inevitably mean? Ding ding ding! More drone strikes and more pressure on Pakistan. Levin emphasized, “Can more be done? It has to be done by Pakistan, unless it is going to be done with drone attacks on their headquarters. More needs to be done by Pakistan. They have not gone into that area in North Waziristan where the Haqqanis are.”
The pressure on Pakistan to go into North Waziristan isn’t new; in fact, both the U.S. and Pakistan have been back-and-forth on this issue for months now. However, if Washington decides to rebrand [the top leaders of] the Haqqani network as “terrorists,” it does send a very clear message, especially amid reports that Pakistan’s military/ISI have begun trying “to seed a rapprochement between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Haqqani network,” (COAS Gen. Kayani has denied facilitating secret meetings between the two parties). The message – the U.S. may support Kabul’s Taliban reconciliation program, but leaders of the Haqqani network will not be included in this arrangement.
This may lead to interesting ramifications for Pakistan’s strategic depth ambitions, an effort to hedge India‘s influence in Afghanistan. The less-than-ambivalent term “terrorist” not only shifts the tone from Washington, it also leaves little breathing room for Pakistan. Terrorist/Terrorism labels aren’t light designations in this post-9/11 era, and it will be interesting to see how Pakistan responds. If the military doesn’t go into North Waziristan, will that lead Washington to feel more “justified” in increasing drone strikes in the region? (For coverage of the legal justification of drone strikes, see here.)
Watching these developments play out are akin to a complex chess game. Whose move is it next?