Anonymous Pakistani officials have told news agencies that the government will ban the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network “within weeks.” But a listing of the Haqqani Network as a terrorist entity is unlikely to change decades of support that the jihadist group has received from the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment.
Pakistani officials first told The Express Tribune that the Haqqani Network Jamaat-ud-Dawa (the political front of the Lashkar-e-Taiba) and 10 other jihadist groups would be banned in “coming days.”
“It’s our first step towards execution of the National Action Plan,” against terrorism, a senior intelligence official told the news agency. “The nation will see more positive steps towards dismantling militant groups. Both civilian and military leadership decided to ban the Haqqani Network and Jamaat-ud-Dawa.”
Pakistani government officials told Reuters that the ban on the Haqqani Network would be announced “within weeks.” A member of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s cabinet said the decision to proscribe the Haqqani Network was made after the Movement of the Taliban assaulted a school in Peshawar and brutally executed 134 children.
The unnamed cabinet minister also told Reuters that “the military and the government are on the same page on how to tackle militancy. There is no more ‘good’ or ‘bad’ Taliban.”
The “bad” Taliban are identified as jihadist groups such as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which seeks to overthrow the Pakistani state. The “good” Taliban are groups such as the Haqqani Network, who wage jihad in Afghanistan but do not overtly seek to wage war against the Pakistani state. However the so-called good Taliban do support groups such as Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and al Qaeda.
Ban unlikely to change institutional support of the Haqqani Network
While the banning of the Haqqani Network is a welcome move, if it is not backed by significant action, such as the arrest of the jihadist group’s top leadership, the dismantling of its network, the destruction of its infrastructure, and the end of support by the military and Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the move is likely to amount to little more than symbolism.
If history is any indication, Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment is unlikely to truly end its support of the Haqqani Network. The Haqqanis have been one of the premier instruments of influence inside Afghanistan; the group has served as part of Pakistan’s policy of “strategic depth” against a potential war with India and US influence in Afghanistan. While Pakistani officials have claimed the country has discarded its policy of “strategic depth,” there is little evidence to support this. In fact, the Pakistani establishment still allows the Afghan Taliban (of which the Haqqani Network is a part) to operate freely within Afghanistan. And there is no indication at all that the Pakistani government will ban the Afghan Taliban, let alone dismantle the group’s extensive network inside of Pakistan.
Recent statements by Sartaj Aziz, the adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, also indicate that the Pakistani government is not serious about tackling the Haqqani Network. In mid-November, Aziz said Pakistan should not “make enemies” out of groups such as the Haqqani Network, and that the Afghan Taliban was Afghanistan’s problem, not Pakistan’s.
“Why should America’s enemies unnecessarily become our enemies,” Aziz told BBC Urdu.
“Some of them were dangerous for us and some are not. Why must we make enemies out of them all?,” he continued, referencing the Haqqani Network. [See Threat Matrix report, Good Taliban are not our problem, adviser to Pakistan’s prime minister says.]
Three days ago, in a joint press conference held with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Aziz was asked if Pakistan planned on cracking down on the Haqqani Network, the Afghan Taliban, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. Aziz dodged the issues related to the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, and then claimed that the Haqqani Network’s “infrastructure [was] totally destroyed” during the ongoing Pakistani military operation in North Waziristan.
“But as far as Haqqani Network is concerned, since after the North Waziristan operation, their infrastructure is totally destroyed, and our commitment to Afghanistan not to allow our territory to be used against any other country would not have been possible unless we had taken this operation in North Waziristan,” Aziz claimed. “So to that extent, their ability to operate from here across to Afghanistan has virtually disappeared.”
Pakistani claims not withstanding, there is no evidence that the Haqqani Network’s “infrastructure is totally destroyed.” In fact, not a single Haqqani Network leader, commander, or operative is reported to have been killed or captured during the North Waziristan offensive. The Pakistani military has targeted only the “bad” Taliban — the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan — during the operation. [See LWJ report, Pakistani military claims 910 ‘terrorists,’ 82 soldiers killed in North Waziristan operation.]
Finally, the banning of jihadist groups in Pakistan has little effect without the will to enforce the ban. Pakistan has outlawed dozens of jihadist groups, many of which still operate in the open with the support of the government. Lashkar-e-Taiba was banned in 2002 but the group responded by merely rebranding itself and operating under the name Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which was subsequently banned in 2005.
This has not stopped the group from receiving the support of the Pakistani military and the ISID, nor has it stopped it from running its operations in Afghanistan, and conducting terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and India. And Lashkar-e-Taiba’s top leaders, including its emir, Hafiz Saeed, continue to operate openly in Pakistan. Saeed, who states “we do jihad” and calls for jihad in Indian-held Kashmir, even dines with senior Pakistani generals. Instead of detaining Saeed, who is wanted by the US and has a $10 million reward on his head for his capture and prosecution, the Pakistani government has involved him in a “de-radicalization and rehabilitation” program.