Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, has said she will meet an obligation to decide in the coming days whether the Pakistan-linked Haqqani network should be considered “terrorist”.
American lawmakers have pressed Clinton to blacklist the group, which is blamed for grisly attacks in Afghanistan, but some US officials have warned such a step could dramatically set back already fraught ties with Pakistan.
Clinton, visiting the Cook Islands for a Pacific island summit, said that she would abide by legislation by Congress that requires her to state by September 9 whether the Haqqani network met the criteria of a “terrorist group”.
“I’m aware that I have an obligation to report to Congress,” Clinton told a joint news conference with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. “Of course we will meet that commitment.”
Clinton declined comment on which way she is leaning but said that the US was already “putting steady pressure” on the Haqqani network.
“That is part of what our military does every single day along with our ISAF partners,” she said, referring to the NATO-led force in Afghanistan.
“We are drying up their resources, we are targetting their military and intelligence personnel, we are pressing the Pakistanis to step up their own efforts,” she said.
‘Veritable arm’ of ISI
Before stepping down as the top US military officer last year, Admiral Mike Mullen said that the Haqqani network had become a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
Ayesha Siddiqa, an Islamabad-based military analyst, told Al Jazeera that the Pakistani military was increasingly beginning to see the Haqqani network as a threat.
“It’s not an issue of a change of heart, but it’s about political realism. Perhaps, and I’m not sure about it, but perhaps one part of the Pakistani military leadership might agree to join hands with the Americans. And one of the reasons being that some of the intelligence reports that have been coming … they indicate that Sirajuddin Haqqani is now in some sort of co-operation with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the TTP, which is hitting at the state,” she said.
The State Department has designated certain members of the Haqqani network as “terrorists” but has resisted blacklisting the entire group.
The US has slowly been rebuilding co-operation with Pakistan, which was severely set back after US forces found and killed Osama bin Laden living last year near the military’s main academy.
The Senate and House of Representatives have both urged the State Department in resolutions to blacklist the group, which would make it a crime in the US to provide any financial or other support to the Haqqani network.
Technically, however, Clinton is only asked to declare whether the Haqqani network meets the criteria of a terrorist group and is not being forced to make an actual decision on the designation.
US officials have linked the Haqqani network to some of the most sensational attacks in Afghanistan, including a June assault on a hotel near Kabul that killed 18 people and a siege last year of the US embassy.