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Haqqani network: ISI's friend, America's foe

Last updated on: May 18, 2011 14:59 IST

Image: Militants belonging to the Haqqani network
Photographs: Reuters
While the United States is demanding that Pakistan launch an offensive against the Haqqani network, the Inter-Services Intelligence is instead wooing the terrorist group to join nascent Afghan peace talks, according to a newspaper report.

The US says that the Haqqani network is aided by Pakistan's spy service, the ISI, and is closely allied with the Al Qaeda, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Under the leadership of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the group has blown up Kabul supermarkets, stormed Afghan government buildings and assisted the Al Qaeda suicide bomber who killed seven Central Intelligence Agency operatives in Afghanistan in 2009.


Haqqani's spooked by drone strikes, Osama's death

Image: Villagers pick up rocket fragments after a drone strike
Photographs: Reuters
US officials have even threatened that more raids could be launched unless Pakistan moves swiftly against militants such as the Haqqani network, which American officials consider the bloodiest and most irreconcilable of the groups battling coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Yet, the ISI has resisted taking on the Haqqani network, and now wants the group to explore a role in Afghan peace talks, say Pakistani officials and tribal elders with ties to the group, suggesting that Pakistan is unlikely to heed the US warning that it must act soon, said the report.

A tribal elder from North Waziristan, who has contacts with Haqqani's inner circle, told the newspaper that the terrorist network has been spooked by an unrelenting campaign of CIA drone strikes and the death of Al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, and may be increasingly amenable to talks.

In one indication that the Haqqanis are worried, their compounds in North Waziristan's capital, Miran Shah, largely emptied out in the days following the bin Laden raid, the elder added.

American officials say that Haqqani, who is based in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area, is a potential target for a raid like the one that killed bin Laden, but their preference would be for Pakistan to take action in North Waziristan similar to its military offensives against the Pakistan Taliban in other parts of the tribal areas, said the report.  

Haqqanis not included in efforts to open talks with Taliban

Image: Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar
While US officials say that Washington would talk with anyone who is serious about striking a peace deal, they do not believe that Haqqani fits the bill, it added. 

The Haqqanis haven't been included in recent efforts to open talks with the main Taliban leadership, headed by Mullah Muhammad Omar, US officials say.

"I don't see any evidence that makes me think Haqqani is a guy we're going to want to be talking to," said a US official.

After years of privately voicing their suspicions, American officials now openly accuse Pakistan of giving the Haqqanis succour in hopes of using them to maintain their own influence-and combat that of rival India-in Afghanistan's future, the report said.

A Pakistani defence official denied that his government gives any support to the Haqqanis and called talk of them as irredeemably violent players "unhelpful", the report added.

ISI believes Haqqanis can be a 'force for peace' in Pak

Photographs: Reuters
The Haqqanis represent a more vexing problem, the Pakistani official said, adding that unlike the Arabs and other foreigners who make up the Al Qaeda, the Haqqanis hail from the Pashtun Zadran tribe, part of the fabric of eastern Afghanistan and North Waziristan. 

They can't be "picked off willy-nilly by drone strikes," the official said, arguing that the Haqqanis ultimately have to be won over through talks, just like the negotiations that the US is trying to open with the main Taliban movement, although American forces are fighting the insurgents at the same time.

The official said Pakistan would use whatever influence it had over the Haqqanis -- that he insisted was minimal -- to bring them to the table, adding that the ISI was leading the effort.

The Pakistani spy agency did not respond to requests to comment, but in one indication of the ISI's thinking, a senior ISI official once said in an interview that he believed the Haqqanis could one day be "a force for peace" in Afghanistan.

Source: ANI