Name Calling: A Move Against Peace
By Adam Cohen on 09/20/2012 @ 11:07 AM
Legally, the designation fits. The Haqqani Network qualifies as an FTO simply because it partners up with and supports the efforts of Al Qaeda, declared a terrorist network by the United States. But just because the U.S. could make this designation does not mean it should have.
To start with, the United States gains next to nothing from this designation. At the September 13, 2012 House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade Hearing on the Haqqani Network, members of Congress and witnesses alike lauded the designation as a critical step towards breaking down the Network’s vast sources of funding that range from support from Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) to racketeering U.S. development. It seems implausible that the United States is not already looking into any-and-all means to diminish the influence and fighting capacity of their most dangerous enemy on the battlefield. If this assumption is correct, then the U.S. earns nothing more than a limited symbolic victory.
If only this were just a symbolic act. The gesture actually has negative consequences for cause of peace in Afghanistan and the entire region.
Most directly, the denomination impedes comprehensive Afghan negotiations. According to the law, once a group is deemed to be a FTO, the United States can no longer communicate with them on a diplomatic level. As the most dangerous contingent of an insurgency that cannot be defeated militarily, the Haqqani Network must be included in any lasting political peace. The Haqqani Network is one of the most extreme, militant branches of the insurgency and is difficult to negotiate with under any circumstances, but that does not mean it will not have a stake in post-war Afghanistan. Considering their current level of influence and the ever-worsening problems the U.S. faces in training Afghan security forces, the Haqqanis could very well play a major role in what the country looks like after 2014. Designating the group as a FTO and cutting off the possibility of talks makes the process of getting everyone to the peace table to talk about issues such as power-sharing and preventing the rise of terrorism that much harder—if not impossible.
Secondly, declaring the Network a FTO creates an obstacle to a political agreement for regional cooperation on peace and stability. The Haqqani Network remains loyal to the country that has given it refuge since the 1970s – Pakistan. As the Haqqanis support Pakistan’s plans for a fundamentalist, anti-Indian Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army (the ISI in particular) not only refuses to go after them but gives them support in their militant activities within Afghanistan.
This, of course, suggests that declaring the Haqqani Network a FTO will further fray the already difficult U.S.-Pakistani dialogue. If Pakistan has further reason to believe that the U.S. is outright trying to reduce its influence in Afghanistan and to threaten its national security, however warped that perception might be, it will be less likely to cooperate with the United States or to follow its lead in a regional dialogue to end the conflict.
This move, as well as the State Department’s well-noted absence at the aforementioned hearing, shows that U.S. policy is still being dictated by the military, which continues to pursue military solutions to a political problem with only political answers. It deepens enmities and damage already-broken alliances rather creating greater dialogue. The war in Afghanistan has claimed far too many lives and gone on for far too long. It is time for the U.S. to start thinking beyond the war and start thinking about the peace.