President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan strategy places a premium on getting our troops out rather than finishing the job. A premature drawdown would badly hamper the military’s capacity to deal with many threats in the region — the Jalaluddin Haqqani Network, to name just one.
This little-known group has been linked for years to terrorism and criminal enterprises in northwest Pakistan. It brokers passage through Pakistan’s tribal territories into the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktika and Paktia. Its support allows the Taliban to keep funneling fighters and materiel into eastern Afghanistan.
The network lacks al-Qaida’s high profile, but its leaders embrace the same extremist rhetoric. For example, in a 2010 Internet interview, the normally reclusive Sirajuddin Haqqani (son of Jalaluddin Haqqani) said, “The crusaders’ assaults against Afghanistan aim primarily to establish greater Israel. We believe that defeating the United States in Afghanistan will help to hinder this crusade against the Muslim world.”
The network is thought to have thousands of fighters at its command. It also has al-Qaida, the Taliban and Pakistan’s intelligence service on speed dial, and a lot of blood on its hands. It has directly supported numerous attacks inside Afghanistan, including two separate assaults against civilians in the Indian Embassy and the Serena Hotel in Kabul. And it might turn out the group was involved in a recent attack on the InterContinental Hotel.
The Haqqanis also operate as an Afghan version of the Mafia. According to Jeff Dressler, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, “Contractors and district elders in Loya-Paktia [district] pay protection money to Haqqani affiliates.” Moreover, he reported, “the Haqqanis also earn revenue from criminal enterprises such as chromite and timber smuggling and, to a lesser extent, kidnapping and extortion.”
The network is a potent force within Pakistan too, although because of its close links to ISI it has not been linked to terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. While the ISI might resist recognizing the network as a threat, Islamabad must not be allowed to look the other way.
The U.S. must encourage Pakistan to pressure the group into reconciliation talks with Afghanistan. One way to do this would be to let the U.S. conduct an aggressive drone campaign against Haqqani camps in the tribal areas.
Unfortunately, Obama’s decision to speed up the drawdown makes it a lot harder to persuade Pakistan to toughen up on the group — or at least let us.
James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for national security at The Heritage Foundation.