WASHINGTON — The US State Department on Tuesday voiced concern about the Pakistan-linked Haqqani network and said it was studying whether to designate the group as terrorists after strong appeals by Congress.
President Barack Obama’s administration has repeatedly demanded that Pakistan rein in the militant group active in Afghanistan and has targeted its members, but has stopped short of putting the network on the terror blacklist.
Obama on Friday signed a law — approved with overwhelming support of both parties in Congress — that gave 30 days to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to determine if the Haqqani network meets the criteria of a terrorist group.
“We share the grave concern of the Congress with regard to the activities of the Haqqani network,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
As for whether Clinton will designate the Haqqani network as terrorists, Nuland said without elaborating: “She’s considering right now and reviewing the issue.”
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.
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.
The Senate and House of Representatives in their resolutions called on the State Department to add the network to its list of terrorist groups, which would freeze any Haqqani assets and make it a crime to fund them.
But the State Department, while designating certain members as terrorists, has balked at blacklisting the entire group in part because of its close ties to Pakistan.
In light of Mullen’s remarks, a designation of the Haqqani network may essentially amount to describing Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism and hinder both cooperation with Islamabad and attempts to reach a negotiated solution with extremists to end the war in Afghanistan.
Some analysts argue that Pakistan’s relationship with the Haqqani network is more nuanced than it appears, with Islamabad primarily seeking to preserve leverage with a dangerous movement.