U.S. Debate on Haqqani: Military or Political Solution?

mike mullen

Admiral Mike Mullen

Dissension over Adm. Mike Mullen’s accusation that the Haqqani network of Afghan insurgents is a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s intelligence agency and the revelation that a U.S. official met with a Haqqani official have provided new evidence of a long-simmering struggle within the Barack Obama administration over how to deal with the most effective element of the Afghan resistance to U.S.-NATO forces.

One issue under debate is whether is whether military force alone can settle the problem of the Haqqani network or if a political settlement is necessary.

The other issue is whether the United States should continue to carry out a drone war against the Haqqani network in defiance of Pakistan’s demand for a veto over the strikes, or reach an accommodation with Pakistan that would narrow the focus of the strikes.

That policy debate pits top military leaders, Pentagon officials and the CIA, who want to put priority on pressuring Pakistan to attack the Haqqani forces, against those in the Obama administration who doubt that the military effort can be decisive and support a political approach to that key insurgent force.

The military, the Pentagon and the CIA have been pushing aggressively since late 2010 to get the administration to force the Pakistani military leadership to carry out a major offensive against the Haqqani leadership and forces in North Waziristan, despite an intelligence assessment that Islamabad will not change its policy toward the Haqqani group.

Just days before his tenure of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ended, Mullen took advantage of the consternation of the entire Obama administration over the 20-hour siege of the U.S. Embassy and U.S.- NATO headquarters in Kabul Sep. 13 to raise the issue of Pakistani ties with the Haqqani group at a higher level of intensity.

He sought to exploit what he called “credible evidence” that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI) was involved in the planning or execution of the Kabul attacks.

It soon became evident, however, that Mullen was not speaking for a united Obama administration. White House spokesman Jay Carney responded to a question about Mullen’s remarks on Sep. 28 by saying it was “not language that I would use”.

A September 27 article in the Washington Post quoted an unnamed U.S. official as saying that Mullen’s charge was “overstated” and that there was “scant evidence” of ISI “direction or control” over the Haqqani group.

Then Washington Times Pentagon correspondent Bill Gertz suggested September 28 that the criticism of Mullen was coming from officials in the intelligence community and the State Department who wanted to relax the pressure on Pakistan over the Haqqani network rather than intensifying it.

The critics were calling for cutting back sharply on drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, according to the Pentagon official who leaked the disagreement to Gertz. Their argument, according to Gertz’s source, was that continuing the strikes at the present level is unlikely to damage Al-Qaeda any more than it already has been.

That argument parallels those made by former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair in an Aug. 14 New York Times op-ed piece.

The vast majority of the drone strikes over the past two years, however, have targeted the Haqqani network, not Al-Qaeda or the Pakistani Taliban. The drone war has therefore become the basis for an alliance between the leadership of the CIA and the military in support of pressure on Pakistan’s military over its failure to attack the Haqqani network.

The military and the CIA have argued strongly against negotiating with the Haqqani network. In June 2010, CIA Director Leon Panetta declared publicly, “We have seen no evidence that they are truly interested in reconciliation where they would surrender their arms, where they would denounce Al-Qaeda, where they would really try to become part of that society.”

That position also reflected the interests of the U.S. military. Panetta’s move to Defence and his replacement by Gen. David Petraeus at CIA ensures that the same alignment of interests will continue.

gareth porterBut the Obama administration’s December 2010 strategy review produced a potential alternative to that military-CIA approach.

An intelligence assessment circulated just as the 50-page classified review of progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan was being completed concluded that Pakistan was not likely to agree to carry out a major military operation against the Haqqani group, regardless of U.S. pressures. It also suggested that, without such a change in Pakistan’s policy, the U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan couldn’t succeed.

That strengthened the hand of those who had been sceptical about the military’s approach to the problem. The result, according to sources familiar with the document, was that the strategy review suggested the need for a “political approach” to the insurgency in general and the Haqqani network in particular.

The review, which is described as “diagnostic” rather than “prescriptive”, did not mandate such a political approach, nor did it define what it would entail, according to the sources. The political approach “wasn’t off the ground yet”, one source told IPS.

The implication, however, was that the Haqqani network would have to be integrated into the broader U.S. strategy of “dialogue” with the Taliban insurgent leadership, even as military pressure on the insurgents continued. It could not go further than that, because Obama had not made a decision to enter into peace negotiations with the Taliban.

After the December review, Pakistan stepped up its effort to persuade the United States to deal directly with the Haqqani network, telling the Obama administration that it could bring the Haqqanis to the negotiating table.

Despite opposition from the military-Pentagon-CIA phalanx to a Haqqani role in negotiations, those in the State Department and the White House who were backing a broader strategy of negotiations for Afghanistan and hoping to ease tensions with Pakistan supported separate talks with the Haqqani group.

Haqqani

Mujahedeen commander Jalaluddin Haqqani in his base camp near the Pakistani border (Photo: Getty)

In a hint of the direction U.S. policy was tilting, Mullen, who was no fan of direct contacts with the Haqqani network, declared in June that some members of the network might be open to “reconciliation”.

ABC News revealed on “The Blotter” Oct. 3 that a U.S. official had met with Ibrahim Haqqani, the son of the patriarch of the organisation, Jalaludin Haqqani, a few months before the Sep. 13 Kabul attacks.

Sirajuddin

, who is now in day-to-day command of the network, told BBC the same day that the U.S. had raised the possibility of representation of the network in the Afghan government.

Although no U.S. official has confirmed that claim, it is consistent with past efforts to divide the Haqqanis from Mullah Mohammed Omar, to whom the Haqqanis have pledged their loyalty. In May 2004, Seyed Saleem Shahzad reported in the Asia Times Online that Siraj Haqqani had confirmed a report Shahzad had gotten from another source – presumably ISI – that the United States had offered through ISI to make Jalaludin Haqqani prime minister.

The elder Haqqani’s response, according to his son, was, “After so much killing of Afghans through ‘daisy cutter bombs’ and like, shall I sit in the government under U.S. command?”

While rejecting offers to end their resistance war in return for a position in the government, the Haqqanis are ready to join broader negotiations whenever Mullah Omar agrees to begin talks, as was confirmed by a Haqqani network source to Reuters Sep. 17.

Last week, unnamed U.S. officials were spreading the word to news media that there was reason to believe the Haqqanis were to blame for the assassination of Afghan High Peace Council Burhanuddin Rabbani, despite the apparent absence of any real evidence the group was involved.

That was another indication that the debates over the two Haqqani- related issues are far from being resolved.

Gareth Porter

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam”, was published in 2006.

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Comments

  1. says

    The fact remains that Afghanistans Taliban provided the source for the attack on America. President Bush allowed Bin Laden to escape to Pakistan and created a new and protected haven for his terrorist activities. We then went off to Iraq in a quest for oil and riches. That failed as we didn’t even get the oil. We did manage to stop the war between Iraq and Iran and the end result was that Iran won. They will now have Iraq as an ally.
    Pakistan was the country who gave the world Khan who with the help of the military and intelligence agencies exported Nuclear Weapons Technology to North Korea, Libya, and Iran.
    We now face the possibility of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons that could be used in the United States.
    This situation was not created by President Obama – it left him in a dilemma of doing the right thing to deal with a very difficult problem. The people of the United States are once again sick and tired of war. They were inspired by the attack on the World Trade Center but due to the mishandling of the matter by the Bush Administration, we now have a mess on our hands with a shattered economy brought about by the failure of the Bush Administration or I should say their success in ripping us off for profit.
    You can be sure that President Obama is handling this better than any of the Republicans would. The Republicans would like to replace him so they could pay off their rich donors and who would respond like Bush/Cheney for a new opportunity for profit. What do you think they would do?

  2. says

    Once again, with all due respect to Porter trying to track down the insider details and facts on yes-or-no who’s-who for negotiations of whom with whom: all these details are going to be largely irrelevant to the eventual bottom line.

    As everyone knows, even if the US pretends otherwise, US and other outside-of-region forces will leave Afghanistan in finite time, with or without negotiations. Attempts to impose or promote a stable post-withdrawal political situation will depend just on what Afghans and their immediate neighbors will prefer or anyhow accept. Afghanistan has long failed to be a western-sense conventional unitary state, but before the Soviet intervention it was a functional federation of sorts. But both the Soviets and later the Americans decided that Afghanistan must – for whatever reason – be a unitary state, and so they complained of its instability and misery, and mocked the federation concept by derogating the power-players as ‘warlords’. (As if now peace-prizer Obama isn’t de facto just that.) The result ever since has been even more instability and misery.

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