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For Pakistan, Deep Ties to Militant Network may Trump U.S. Pressure

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other senior administration officials visited Pakistan in October to demand that Pakistan’s spy agency either deliver the Haqqani network, a virulent part of the insurgency fighting American forces in Afghanistan, to the negotiating table or help fight them in their stronghold in Pakistan’s rugged tribal areas.

But there are any number of reasons why the Pakistanis may disappoint the Americans. Not least is that the Haqqani leadership — contrary to the American emphasis on drone strikes in the tribal areas — does not have to hide in Pakistan’s ungoverned fringes. So close are the Haqqanis’ ties to Pakistan’s military and intelligence service that one might just as well look for them around the capital, Islamabad, or in the closely guarded military quarters of Rawalpindi.

Osama bin Laden was thought to have been hiding in the tribal areas, too, said a tribal elder reached by telephone in the Haqqani stronghold of North Waziristan. Instead, Bin Laden was killed by American commandos in Abbottabad, a small city deep in Pakistan that is home to a top military academy. Whether he was there with the knowledge of Pakistan’s spy agency is still unclear.

“The Americans have taken the hell out of us through drones all these years trying to target O.B.L.,” said the elder, referring to Bin Laden, and not wanting to be named for fear of his safety. “But they found him in Abbottabad. The same will happen with the Haqqanis, too.”

The freedom of movement the Haqqanis enjoy in Pakistan could be witnessed on a sweltering July day last year at a graduation ceremony at one of Pakistan’s largest religious schools, Darul Uloom Haqqania, well known for producing the ranks of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.

Among the thousands who had gathered that day in Akora Khattak, just an hour from the capital, were top members of the Haqqani family. The family patriarch, Jalaluddin Haqqani, is a graduate of the school and draws his last name from it.

The Haqqanis stayed for several hours at the event, which was almost certainly monitored by Pakistani intelligence agents, and, after lunch, left in a car with Islamabad license plates.

The Haqqani family, which runs the network like a mafia, maintains several town houses, including in Islamabad and elsewhere, and they have been known to visit military facilities in Rawalpindi, attend tribal gatherings and even travel abroad on pilgrimages, say military and political analysts who follow militant activity in Pakistan.

Among those present at the ceremony was Khalil Haqqani, a brother of Jalaluddin, and an important fund-raiser for the network who travels frequently to the United Arab Emirates. In February he was added to the United Nations Security Council’s sanctions list for having links to Al Qaeda.

With him were two of Jalaluddin’s sons. One was Nasiruddin Haqqani, often described as the Haqqani network’s liaison with Pakistani intelligence and the person in charge of channeling money.

Senior leaders of the group concerned with political and financial affairs, like Khalil Haqqani and another of Jalaluddin’s brothers, Ibrahim Haqqani, have long resided in Islamabad, said Vahid Brown, a counterterrorism expert at Princeton who is researching a book on the Haqqani network.

“My impression is they mostly live in the cities,” Mr. Brown said. He cited news reports and a tribal legislator as saying that Ibrahim Haqqani had lived in Islamabad for the past 20 years. Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks last year also revealed that the two Haqqanis often traveled to the United Arab Emirates from Pakistan, Mr. Brown said. Ibrahim Haqqani even met an American official there for exploratory negotiations in late August.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, who manages the network for his father — and is the undisputed boss — travels freely around Pakistan’s northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal areas, according to two Western analysts with extensive experience of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“The fact that he is able to drive around means he is protected,” one analyst said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering the Pakistani government.

Kashmiri and Afghan militant groups have long been supported by the Pakistani military, and many of their members carry passes that allow them to go through any police checkpoint, he said.

As much as Mrs. Clinton and other American officials would like the Pakistani leadership to make a definitive break with the Haqqanis, such free movement reflects the symbiotic relationship between the network’s members and Pakistan’s military.

The Haqqanis need a haven to train fighters and receive financial and material support, which they get from Pakistan, especially in North Waziristan, part of the tribal areas. Pakistan’s military, for its part, needs a proxy to extend its influence in Afghanistan after the Americans leave; that is what the Haqqanis give them.

Pakistan’s biggest nightmare is a strong, centralized, nationalist Afghan state — just the kind the Americans have been striving to create. Such an Afghanistan, Pakistani leaders fear, will lay claim to the Pashtun areas that straddle a border that was drawn carelessly by the British and that Afghanistan has never fully accepted. They also fear that the Pashtuns might someday want a nation of their own.

So in the thinking of Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment, the Haqqanis make sense. They are Pashtuns but not nationalists, and they are increasingly seen as being more reliable partners than even the Quetta Shura, the Afghan Taliban leadership council based in Pakistan. And they provide a hedge in Afghanistan against any encroachment by Pakistan’s chief rival, India.

Even so, this policy is not without its costs. Also present at the graduation ceremony last year were members of both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, underlining the close connection among all the groups.

The Pakistani military has always distinguished between the “good Taliban” — meaning those who fight in Afghanistan, like the Haqqanis — and the “bad Taliban” — meaning members of the Pakistani Taliban who are at war with the Pakistani state. Among the Taliban this distinction does not exist, however, said two militant insiders, one a former militant and one a current fighter.

Most of the recent suicide attacks in Pakistan have been attributed to the Pakistani Taliban, who share the Haqqanis’ stronghold in North Waziristan. The Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqanis help each other with money, intelligence and suicide bombers.

Some in the Pakistani military have acknowledged this merging of insurgent groups, yet the policy of support for the Haqqanis is unchanged. “We know that the Haqqanis are playing a double game,” a Pakistani military official in North Waziristan said last year. “We support them and they support our enemies, the TTP,” as the Pakistani Taliban are known.

But then, American intelligence officials and numerous observers have long suspected that Pakistan’s intelligence agency has played a double game, too. Though the full substance of the talks between American and Pakistani leaders during the Clinton visit was not revealed, “it looks less and less likely now that Pakistan is going to take any serious action against the Haqqanis,” Mehreen Zahra-Malik, an editor at The News International, Pakistan’s largest English-language newspaper, wrote in an e-mail.

Rather than respond to American demands, “as the pressure has built like never before, establishment circles have come pretty close to admitting the Haqqanis are assets, even if it’s couched in the language of ‘They’re very important for talks,’ ” Ms. Zahra-Malik wrote.

The reason the Pakistani military would take no action against the Haqqanis was simple, she added with a capital-letter emphasis that paraphrased the generals’ thinking. “The bottom line is: WE NEED THEM.”

Source: The New York Times

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