By Jamie Crawford
Responsible for the deaths of American and NATO troops, and multiple attacks on embassies and other infrastructure in Afghanistan, the Haqqani network would seem to fit the bill as a foreign terrorist organization.
For some, that designation is a long overdue.
"Republicans and Democrats in both houses of Congress agree that the Haqqani Network is a violent terrorist organization and grave threat to our security," Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan said in a statement last month when he introduced a bill that would call on the Obama administration to designate the group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).
"The Haqqanis are responsible for killing hundreds of our troops, and their indiscriminate attacks have also murdered countless innocent Afghan men, women, and children."
Separately, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, have introduced a bill in the Senate calling on the administration to designate the group a terrorist organization.
From their base in Pakistan's Waziristan province, the al Qaeda-linked militant group has drawn the ire of the United States government with members of its top leadership already being designated as terrorists - which freezes any personal assets of theirs held in U.S. banks.
And last September, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said U.S. officials were "in the final formal review" for designating the entire Haqqani network as a terrorist organization. So what is taking so long?
In a word: Pakistan.
"If you designate the Haqqani network an FTO, then there would be significant pressure placed on the United States and the international community to designate Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism," Rick "Ozzie" Nelson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told Security Clearance. "It would be hard to avoid going down that road."
The group's presence inside Pakistan has become a major sticking point in an already badly strained U.S.-Pakistan relationship. In an interview with CNN last year, former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said that elements in Pakistan's spy service are "very active" with the Haqqani network, launching attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Mullen told Congress the terror group was a "virtual arm" of the spy agency. Pakistan has denied that is the case but the Pentagon says Pakistan has not done enough to stop the violence.
"The Haqqanis need to be dealt with," said Pentagon spokesman George Little on Tuesday. "We are bringing a great deal of pressure to bear on the Haqqanis, and we believe that on the Pakistani side of the border, that additional action needs to be taken by the Pakistanis to root out this network of militants that is a menace to Afghanistan and to Pakistan."
From a practical standpoint, analysts who follow the situation say naming the entire group an FTO would certainly put pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting the group so as to avoid being labeled a state sponsor of terror, and being cut off from the United States and international community.
But at a time when Pakistani involvement is needed to help stabilize the situation in Afghanistan as U.S. and NATO troops prepare to end combat operations in 2014, threatening Pakistan with such action could prove contrary to a variety of U.S. strategic goals.
"When you are isolating a country that is as unstable as Pakistan is but has arguably the fastest growing nuclear stockpile in the world, you really run the risk of potentially having a rogue state on your hands, Nelson said.
For Pakistan, their support for the group serves a hedge in a game being played out in Afghanistan against its arch-rival India.
"The Pakistanis are willing to do literally anything at the risk of rupturing the U.S. relationship to secure its ability to limit Indian presence in Afghanistan long after we are gone," said Christine Fair, a former United Nations official in Afghanistan, now with the Georgetown School of Foreign Service. "In some measure that's what Pakistan's support for the Taliban is about, and of course the Haqqani network falls into that rubric."
In the past, the Obama administration had resisted listing the entire group out of concern that it would drive the Haqqanis away from a possible peace deal in Afghanistan. The group, with its links to other Taliban entities, was considered integral to the political reconciliation the U.S. was seeking, two senior U.S. officials told CNN last year.
But with reconciliation talks between the United States and elements of the Taliban stalled, many officials question the wisdom of talking with the Haqqanis.
"You cannot negotiate with terrorists, and in my view that's exactly what the Haqqani Network is," Feinstein said in a written statement announcing the legislation she co-sponsored. "I have urged the State Department to designate Haqqani as an FTO for more than two years. Meanwhile, the organization continues to kill Americans in Afghanistan and launch brazen and indiscriminate attacks against innocent men, women and children in the region."
And for analysts like Christine Fair, the question also extends to Pakistan over whether the Haqqani network offers anything really constructive to their interests.
"I don't understand what the value proposition is that the Haqqani network gives the Pakistanis given that increasingly the group is a problem for them as well," vis a vis the relationship with the United States she said. "But the Pakistanis continue to support the entire network at all costs its seems."