A wide majority of National Journal's National Security Insiders said the State Department should designate as a foreign terrorist organization the Haqqani network, the extremist insurgent group under the Taliban umbrella that takes sanctuary in Pakistan's tribal area.
"Since the Haqqani network frequently targets and kills Americans in Afghanistan, not to declare it a foreign terrorist organization risks undermining the credibility and perceived objectivity of U.S. terrorist designations," said one Insider among the 82 percent of the pool of national-security and foreign-policy experts who called for the official designation.
(RELATED: Who are the Insiders?)
Bipartisan, bicameral legislation is pending on the floor of the House that would pressure the Obama administration into designating the network, which has launched spectacular suicide attacks on U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan, as a foreign terrorist organization. In November, the State Department said it was in the midst of a “final formal review” to determine whether the group should be designated as such. Some officials are reportedly concerned that listing the network could disrupt negotiations with the Taliban or upset already tenuous relations with Pakistan.
Bipartisan, bicameral legislation is pending on the floor of the House that would pressure the Obama administration into designating the network, which has launched spectacular suicide attacks on U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan, as a foreign terrorist organization. In November, the State Department said it was in the midst of a “final formal review” to determine whether the group should be designated as such. Some officials are reportedly concerned that listing the network could disrupt negotiations with the Taliban or upset already-tenuous relations with Pakistan.
With the Haqqani network believed to be responsible for last year's high-profile attack on the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul, the truck bombing that injured scores of U.S. troops in Wardark, and the siege on the U.S. Embassy and NATO compound, one Insider said the havoc wreaked by the Haqqani network "unquestionably makes [it] a foreign terrorist organization.... Designating them as such would help tighten the screws on some despicable actors.”
"It's time to call a spade a spade,” another Insider added. “If it looks like a terrorist group, acts like a terrorist group, and attacks and kills soldiers and civilians like a terrorist group, then it's a terrorist group."
Another 18 percent did not support listing the group, citing concerns about potential consequences for negotiations as the United States prepares to withdraw troops. "Negotiation is the only plausible way out of this. Yes, the Haqqanis are awful, and perhaps the threat of designation could be a useful bit of negotiating leverage with them or their Pakistani patrons," one Insider said. "But a straightforward terror designation that complicates talks makes things worse, not better."
On Afghanistan, 60 percent of Insiders said the $16 billion that countries pledged in development aid for the next four years in the name of security was well-spent—with a few caveats. "This will be well-spent if the proper strategic goals are pursued," one Insider said. "If we think $16 billion will make Afghanistan a safe place for development of good governance and economic systems, that would be foolish. But if the international community is willing to continue to pay attention to this region, then the world will be better off with some form of regional stability rather than risk losing it from a neglected Afghanistan."
Another Insider said the United States "made a huge mistake getting sucked into Afghan nation-building."
"You can't take a 15th-century tribal society and turn it into a modern 21st-century democracy. But we are where we are," the Insider said. "The entire region is more unstable today than in 2003, and Afghanistan is in the middle of it. These funds are [the] best chance to encourage stability."
Donor countries at the Tokyo conference earlier this month said their support depends on Afghanistan continuing to make progress in reducing corruption and poverty, improving governance, protecting human rights, and providing security. A portion of the U.S. aid could ultimately depend on Afghanistan meeting benchmarks for such reforms, but each donor could decide how to condition its individual contributions. "This money is well-spent only if the rhetoric about using it conditionally to create incentives for governance reform is real," one Insider said. "It hasn't been to date."
Another 40 percent said the money would be better spent elsewhere. "That $16 billion will line the coffers of the highest Karzai government officials and all their cronies," one Insider said. "The United States should send a strong message to Afghanistan that the corruption that riddles that government is simply unacceptable—and not worth a single American life."
1. Should the State Department designate the Haqqani network as a foreign terrorist organization?
- Yes 82%
- No 18%
"The Haqqani network migrated on the terror-crime continuum and should be designated as [a foreign terrorist organization] since their attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Sept. 12, 2011. Their use and support of violence puts them in the category of a terrorist group rather than a criminal mafia, as they had been regarded in the past. Clear case of the terror-crime nexus."
"If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and talks like a duck...."
"But we should advise Pakistan that we intend to take this action and provide them an opportunity to position themselves. Need to push this agenda forward with them."
"How many people must they kill before State calls them terrorists?"
"What's taken so long?"
"Negotiation is the only plausible way out of this. Yes, the Haqqanis are awful, and perhaps the threat of designation could be a useful bit of negotiating leverage with them or their Pakistani patrons. But a straightforward terror designation that complicates talks makes things worse not better."
"It is a local [Afghanistan-Pakistan] operation. It is not exporting terror."
"The network uses violent methods as part of what it considers an ongoing local war. Designation might only complicate future efforts at negotiation."
2. Countries pledged $16 billion in aid for Afghanistan over the next four years in the name of security. Is that money well-spent?
- Yes 60%
- No 40%
"But only if disbursements are conditioned on measurable, transparent steps to improve the quality of governance and continue the gains in schooling and women's rights."
"It can help introduce stability."
"For two reasons: One, it represents an international commitment that should be encouraged and sustained. Two, coloring the money as international may make its use more accepted."
"Always assuming that corruption can somehow be brought under control. If it is not, we should take our money and run."
"It is a relative pittance compared to what the United States has been spending there on military operations."
"Well-spent in that we have little choice. Far be it [for] me to defend all these programs, but we must remember that a) They are being done to try to lock in hard-earned military gains; and b) They are being done in the most difficult possible setting. We are working there precisely because it IS difficult...."
"The real question is not whether it will be well spent, but rather whether it will materialize at all. A look at the pledges in the past rounds and actual deliveries of funds will suggest that there is little chance of all of the $16 billion reaching Afghanistan."
"Money down a rat hole."
"The U.S. should cut its losses in Afghanistan."
"Unless corruption issues are resolved, too much will be wasted, and security will not be enhanced. The corrupt rats' deep pockets will be filled while people's needs remain unfilled."
"After spending billions to destroy countries, we then spend billions more in failed attempts to rebuild them, and then wonder why we are so much in debt."
"Why do the donors believe the money will not be squandered like all the foreign assistance afforded to Afghanistan over the past 10+ years? Will the Afghan officials be less corrupt in the future?"
"It will never be provided, as international interest in Afghanistan will decline after 2013. And assistance so far has made the Afghan government a helpless ward of international funding, so that governance capacity will weaken. Corruption has spread, meaning existing funds are already not well spent."
"It is with disapointment that I say I see too few possible solutions and an overabundance of challenges. Some problems are too hard to be solved within existing constructs; this seems one of them."
National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign-policy experts.
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