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Haqqani Designation Complicates Pakistan Relations



After long deliberations, the U.S. State Department has designated one of Afghanistan's deadliest insurgent groups to be a terrorist organization. The Haqqani network has been blamed for many attacks on U.S. troops and the embassy in Afghanistan. Although the group is made up primarily of Afghan fighters, it is based in northwest Pakistan.

And the U.S. decision to blacklist the group could complicate relations with Pakistan, just as they may have been beginning to improve. NPR's Jackie Northam joins us from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Thanks very much for being with us, Jackie.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And what's the reaction in Pakistan?

NORTHAM: Scott, there really hasn't been much reaction, at least publically. You certainly haven't seen any members of the government or military denouncing the decision or blasting the U.S. In fact, there's just really more of a sense of concern here. You know, there's this question of whether the decision will jeopardize peace talks in Afghanistan, although the Haqqanis have never indicated any interest in a reconciliation process.

There's also the concern here that Washington's decision is a step toward labeling Pakistan of state-sponsored terrorism, much the same as Iran is. But the State Department emphasized that are no plans for that. Still, this decision puts Pakistan on the defensive and many people here expect that Washington will really start pressuring Pakistan to launch an offensive on the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan, which is where it's based. And up until now, that's something that the Pakistan military has not been willing to do.

SIMON: Why not? And why do they let the Haqqanis keep their base there?

NORTHAM: Well, they're long ties between Pakistan's military intelligence and the Haqqani Network, and these ties go back to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s. And they've especially got strong ties with its leader Jalaluddin Haqqani who was a mujahedeen fighter and later became part of the Taliban government. The group came to Pakistan, fled to Pakistan when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 and since then it's been launching cross border attacks back into Afghanistan against Western targets.

Really, the most common school of thought among analysts is that Pakistan keeps its relationships with groups like the Taliban or the Haqqani Network because ultimately it may need them as an ally if it wants to retain any influence in Afghanistan once the U.S. starts drawing down there. So the U.S. has long accused Pakistan of providing support to the this network and has really put a lot of pressure on the military to go after these guys because they are responsible, really, for some of the deadliest attacks on U.S. and NATO troops in the past couple of years.

SIMON: The State Department says that among other things this designation as a terrorist organization is going to ban any Americans from doing business with the Haqqanis and it'll block any assets they hold in the U.S. What kind of potential impact could it have on the Haqqani Network?

NORTHAM: You know, Scott, the Haqqani network has shown a lot of determination to create trouble in Afghanistan and so the analysts I've talked with here in Pakistan say this decision really probably won't have much of an impact and it's really largely symbolic. They say that the Haqqani network itself doesn't have financial interests in the U.S. and instead it has a very much a profitable business network in this area and the Persian Gulf region and a good part of it is thought to be criminal activities.

But the U.S. is hoping that this designation will just strangle any efforts by the Haqqani Network to raise funds in places like Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, where there are sympathizers to their cause. But, frankly, this is really an informal network of raising money, and it could be hard to track, you know, who's getting the money and how it's coming into this area.

And this is part of the debate in Washington, just trying to weigh what impact blacklisting the Haqqani Network would have, versus how this decision would affect U.S./Pakistan relations going forward.

SIMON: NPR's Jackie Northam in Islamabad, thank you.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.