RFE/RL, November 12, 2012
With Courtney Brooks
Now that the Haqqani network has been recognized as a terrorist organization by the world's premier governing body, are its days of refuge in Pakistan over?
Not likely, according to veteran observers of the Taliban-allied militant group that hails from Afghanistan but is seen to enjoy cozy relations with Pakistani intelligence services.
The UN Security Council's November 5 decision to blacklist the Haqqani network along with the architect of many of its suicide attacks came as a mild surprise, not least because Pakistan currently sits on the 15-member council.
But while Islamabad has vowed full compliance with the requirement that all 193 UN member states impose asset freezes, travel bans, and arms embargos against the Haqqani network, observers don't expect Pakistan to ditch the group just yet.
Cyril Almeida, an Islamabad-based journalist who covers militant groups closely, suggests that, at best, Pakistan could think twice about supporting Afghan Taliban factions in the future.
"It is sort of taken as a fait accompli," he says. "What they [the West] want to do, they will do. And what the Haqqanis want to do and Pakistan wants to do, they will continue to do. But we are now one step away from being a state sponsor of terrorism because if we have a designated terrorist group operating from Pakistani soil -- a fact that even Pakistan doesn't deny anymore -- then what happens next?"
A Hands-Off Approach
Almeida notes that Islamabad essentially adopted a hands-off approach to the Afghan Taliban after it was forced out of power in Afghanistan in late 2001.
"I don't think anyone has seen any significant attempt to clamp down on the Haqqani network militarily, financially, or in terms of traveling," he says. "It goes to the days of the early 2000s when the Taliban used to crossover into Pakistan after the U.S. attack on Afghanistan, and we didn't really say anything. We [Pakistan] said: 'Look, we can't stop them. If you want to stop them, deal with them on your side of the border.'"
Islamabad does have the wherewithal to severely disrupt or even stop the group's operations if it chose to, according to Gretchen Peters, an author and researcher who has been investigating the Haqqani network's finances in Pakistan.
But Peters maintains that Pakistan's blacklisting is a cause for concern among the country's civilian and military leaders, who worry about the possibility that the Haqqani network could turn its guns against its erstwhile allies in the Pakistani security establishment.
"I think the question is if [these concerns] therefore translate into the will and the capacity to do very much about them," she says. "Certainly, Pakistan can cause them a lot of trouble in terms of their financial operations, their movement around Pakistan, [and] their travel. It is well known in intelligence circles where the senior leadership [of the network] are living, are residing. I don't think there is any reason why Pakistan couldn't go and arrest the senior leaders of the Haqqani network if they wanted to."
According to Peters, the Haqqanis and other Afghan militant leaders live fairly openly in northwest Pakistan. She adds that her research shows that leaders of the group could even maintain residences in major cities such as Peshawar and the nearby garrison town of Rawalpindi.
Pakistan's Patchy Record
She asserts that this is supported by information the U.S. military has compiled from captured Haqqani safe houses, leaders, and fighters.
"Virtually every record we found having to do with financial activity or property ownership -- whether it was real estate or vehicles or anything -- everything was purchased in Pakistan," she says. "That was where the command and control of the operation was. This is a network, in terms of its financial operations, [that] was very deeply entrenched [and] has its roots very deep into Pakistan."
Pakistan has a patchy record of enforcing UN sanctions imposed against Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders since they were first introduced in 1999.
Arrests and asset-seizures have been few, and some Pakistani militant organizations linked to Al-Qaeda have continued to operate openly as charities or political groups after renaming themselves or contesting the sanctions in Pakistani courts.
And the recent UN blacklisting came more from inaction than action on the part of Pakistan.
Adding the Haqqani network as well as suicide-mission mastermind Qari Zakir to the blacklist was the result of a unanimous decision by Security Council members. But in what is known as a "silence procedure," the vote was conducted by email and unanimously adopted when no objections were raised within a 24-hour period.
Written and reported by Abubakar Siddique in Prague, with additional reporting by Courtney Brooks at the United Nations.