The United States has formally designated the Haqqani network, accused of high-profile attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as a terrorist group, US officials have said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday signed a report to Congress saying the network met criteria for a terrorist designation, officials at the State Department said.
The report states that the Haqqani network “meets the statutory criteria for designation as a foreign terrorist organisation [FTO],” a US official told the AP news agency, as Clinton attended an Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Vladivostok, Russia.
The group is affiliated to the Taliban and it opposes the Afghan government; it operates on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border but officials in Washington believe it is based in Pakistan’s Waziristan tribal area.
Enraged by a string of attacks on US and NATO troops, Congress gave Clinton a Sunday deadline to deliver her report on whether the Haqqanis should be designated and all of its members subjected to US financial sanctions.
Clinton’s decision came amid numerous disagreements within the administration about the utility of the designation.
The US already had placed sanctions on many Haqqani leaders, and is targeting its members militarily, but it had held back from formally designating the al-Qaeda-linked network a terrorist group amid concerns about hampering peace efforts in Afghanistan and US relations with Pakistan.
On Friday, the Pentagon said it ”welcomed” Clinton’s announcement to designate the group a FTO.
“These new group designations will build on our efforts to degrade the Network’s capacity to carry out attacks,” said a statement from George Little, the acting assistant secretary of defence for public affairs.
“By strengthening our whole-of-government approach against the Haqqanis, we are supporting our campaign efforts in Afghanistan and further limiting the organisation’s capacity to destabilise the region.”
Washington has long branded the Haqqanis among the biggest threats to US and allied forces in Afghanistan, and to Afghanistan’s long-term stability.
“Many if not most of the high profile and dramatic attacks in Afghanistan in recent years have been blamed on the Haqqani network,” Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith reported from Kabul on Friday.
“In Kabul they have been blamed for attacks on the Indian and US embassies and on the NATO headquarters, as well as hotels and restaurants frequented by foreigners. They have also been blamed for attacks on major NATO and Afghan military bases outside Kabul.
“Those attacks take a lot of planning, they are often well resourced and that needs money,” he said.
Smith said some analysts believed designating the network as a terrorist group would blacklist the organisation and make it very difficult for it to move funds around, thereby hampering its activities.
But a senior Pakistani security official said blacklisting the Haqqani network would be counterproductive and put unnecessary pressure on Islamabad, a strategic US ally.
“If the United States wants to have a constructive relationship with Pakistan, then this is a bad move,” the official told the Reuters news agency. “This will push Pakistan into a corner.”
The US accuses Pakistan’s intelligence agency of supporting the Haqqani network and using it as a proxy in Afghanistan to gain leverage against the growing influence of its arch-rival India in the country.
Formal designation as a FTO will increase pressure on the Pakistani government, but any actual effects beyond that were unclear since most of the Haqqani leaders have already been blacklisted individually.
The designation will also bring sanctions such as criminal penalties for anyone providing material support to the Haqqani network and seizure of any assets in the US.
The Haqqanis run a sophisticated and diverse financial network comparable to a mafia group, according to a July report by the US-based Centre for Combating Terrorism.
It said the group raised money through kidnapping, extortion and drug trafficking but also had a business portfolio that
included import and export, transport, poperty and construction interests in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Gulf.
The group had never had to deal with a sustained attack on its finances, report author Gretchen Peters said, and might be vulnerable to cash flow choke points and attacks on its small and centralised command structure.
“Network leaders appear to be as motivated by profit-making as they are driven by issues like revenge, honour and ideology,” the report said.
In Kabul, a government spokesman said any move by Washington against the Haqqanis was welcome.
“This will be a major step by the United States against the Haqqani network who are still plotting for dangerous and destructive attacks against us,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.