Symbolic strike

Symbolic strike

The US government’s listing of the Haqqani network as a foreign terrorist organisation (FTO) is a largely symbolic step.

Based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region and armed and nurtured by the ISI, the al Qaeda-affiliated Haqqani network is a major threat to regional security. It has carried out scores of deadly attacks inside Afghanistan, targeting not just Nato troops but also killing many Afghan civilians.

The attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008 in which and an Indian diplomat and military personnel were killed was its handiwork, although such attacks are often planned and ordered by the ISI. The Haqqani network is said to be a ‘veritable arm’ of the ISI, an important instrument of Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan especially with regard to curbing India’s influence there. It may further Islamabad’s interests in Afghanistan, in the scenario emerging there after the withdrawal of Nato troops in 2014.

An FTO tag to the Haqqani network bars its leaders from visiting the US, freezes its assets in that country and prohibits Americans from providing financial support to it. Such a tag will have little impact on the organisation as its resources are not drawn from the US. Thus its listing as an FTO has only symbolic value. It is a rap on Pakistan’s knuckles, at best a move that reflects the US’ frustration with Pakistan. Under pressure at home to act against the network, the  Obama administration has decided on designating it as an FTO.

The US’ action is a bit like cutting off the tip of the tail of a serpent. If the US is sincere about the ‘war on terrorism’ it must eliminate the brain of the serpent. And that brain lies in the ISI. So long as the ISI’s policy of exporting terrorism continues and the infrastructure of terrorism that it has so assiduously built up over several decades remains intact, terror outfits like the Haqqani network will continue to thrive. Washington has been signalling its growing impatience with Pakistan by launching drone strikes in the Waziristan area. But this has led to large civilian casualties, providing reason for kin of victims to join the network. The resort to drone strikes is counter-productive while the designation of the Haqqani network is of little use. If Washington wants to deny the Haqqani network oxygen it must choke the ISI.