By MARK LANDLER and THOM SHANKERWASHINGTON — The new American military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, is pushing to have top leaders of a feared insurgent group designated as terrorists, a move that could complicate an eventual Afghan political settlement with the Taliban and aggravate political tensions in the region.
General Petraeus introduced the idea of blacklisting the group, known as the Haqqani network, late last week in discussions with President Obama’s senior advisers on Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to several administration officials, who said it was being seriously considered.
Such a move could risk antagonizing Pakistan, a critical partner in the war effort, but one that is closely tied to the Haqqani network. It could also frustrate the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who is pressing to reconcile with all the insurgent groups as a way to end the nine-year-old war and consolidate his own grip on power.
The case of the Haqqani network, run by an old warlord family, underscores the thorny decisions that will have to be made over which Taliban-linked insurgents should win some sort of amnesty and play a role in the future of Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai has already petitioned the United Nationsto lift sanctions against dozens of members of the Taliban, and has won conditional support from the Obama administration, so long as these people sever ties to Al Qaeda, forswear violence and accept the Afghan Constitution.
“If they are willing to accept the red lines and come in from the cold, there has to be a place for them,” Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said to reporters at a briefing on Tuesday.
From its base in the frontier area near the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the network of Sirajuddin Haqqani is suspected of running much of the insurgency around Kabul, the Afghan capital, and across eastern Afghanistan, carrying out car bombings and kidnappings, including spectacular attacks on American military installations. It is allied with Al Qaeda and with leaders of the Afghan Taliban branch under Mullah Muhammad Omar, now based near Quetta, Pakistan.
But the group’s real power may lie in its deep connections to Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, which analysts say sees the Haqqani network as a way to exercise its own leverage in Afghanistan. Pakistani leaders have recently offered to broker talks between Mr. Karzai and the network, officials said, arguing that it could be a viable future partner.
American officials remain extremely skeptical that the Haqqani network’s senior leaders could ever be reconciled with the Afghan government, although they say perhaps some midlevel commanders and foot soldiers could. Some officials in Washington and in the region expressed concerns that imposing sanctions on the entire network might drive away some fighters who might be persuaded to lay down their arms.
The idea of putting the Haqqani network on a blacklist was first made public on Tuesday by Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, who has just returned from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mr. Levin did not disclose any conversations he might have had with General Petraeus on the subject.
The Haqqani network is perhaps the most significant threat to stability in Afghanistan, said Mr. Levin, a powerful voice in Congress on military affairs as chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Mr. Levin also advocated increasing attacks against the organization by Pakistan and by the United States, using unmanned drone strikes.
“At the moment, the Haqqani network — and their fighters coming over the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan — is the greatest threat, at least external threat, to Afghanistan,” Mr. Levin said at a morning breakfast with correspondents.
“More needs to be done by Pakistan,” he added. “The Pakistanis have said they now realize, more than ever, that terrorism is a threat to them — not just the terrorists who attack them directly, but the terrorists who attack others from their territory.”
Placement on the State Department’s list would mainly impose legal limits on American citizens and companies, prohibiting trade with the Haqqani network or its leaders and requiring that banks freeze their assets in the United States.
But Mr. Levin noted that the law would also require the United States government to apply pressure on any nation harboring such a group, in this case Pakistan.
In Kabul, a spokesman for General Petraeus said he would not comment on any internal discussions. But in public General Petraeus has expressed alarm about the network and has talked about his desire to see the Pakistani military act more aggressively against the group’s stronghold in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan.
In testimony before Mr. Levin’s committee last month, General Petraeus said he viewed the network as a particular danger to the mission in Afghanistan.
He said he and other senior military officers had shared information with their counterparts in Pakistan that showed the Haqqani network “clearly commanded and controlled” recent attacks in Kabul and against the Bagram Air Base outside Kabul, which is controlled by the United States.
The focus on a political settlement is likely to intensify next week at a conference in Kabul, to be headed by Mr. Karzai and attended by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other officials. Mr. Karzai recently signed a decree authorizing the reintegration of lower-level Taliban fighters, and Mr. Holbrooke said the meeting would kick off that program, which will be financed by $180 million from Japan, Britain and other countries, as well as $100 million in Pentagon funds.
But Mr. Karzai is eager to extend an olive branch to higher-level figures as well. His government wants to remove up to 50 of the 137 Taliban names on the United Nations Security Council’s blacklist. Mr. Holbrooke, the special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, said the administration supported efforts to cull the list, but would approve names only on a case-by-case basis. Certain figures, like Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, remain out of bounds, he said.
For its part, the United States is trying to keep the emphasis on the low-level fighters, rather than the leadership. The planned American military campaign in Kandahar, officials said, could weaken the position of Taliban leaders, making them more amenable to a settlement.
Still, the United States backs “Afghan-led reconciliation,” Mr. Holbrooke said. And he said the administration was encouraged by recent meetings between Mr. Karzai and Pakistani leaders, which he said were slowly building trust between these often-suspicious neighbors.
“Nothing could be more important to the resolution of the war in Afghanistan,” he said, “than a common understanding between Afghanistan and Pakistan on what their strategic purpose is.”
By the estimations of US intelligence, the civilian to combatant kill ratio on our drone attacks in Pakistan are disproportionately high and damaging our support in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That means for every one Taliban and al-Qaeda person we send to the hereafter includes dozens of women, children, elderly people, or just plain folk in the way. And when a group is blacklisted, it not only means that we refuse to allow them in any future puppet government, but that they remain on our hit list, something not mentioned in the article. I am certain the Haqqani network understands this very well. General Petraeus knows this. It is impossible for him not to because he is reading the same assessments and likely much more. He has to know that this will prolong the conflict and mean we will be staying in Afghanistan long past 2011 (past the general's own stay as commanding general).
More importantly, it is a willful driving of the proverbial stake through the heart of what was General Petraues's greatest success in Iraq, especially in the Anbar province. When unable to kill all of your enemies, buy them. By making the decision to blacklist the very people we are supposed to be employing this tactic with, the good general is attempting to perpetuate the conflict (hopefully, long enough for him not to be associated with it).
Is it just purely for political considerations? For himself, no. If anything, I am certain the decision was made collectively, with Patraeus's place in the chain of command (after the General McChrystal fiasco) made clear to the general. Nevertheless, General Patraeus gains nothing by negotiating a peace and extricating our military from the region. How is that going to play in a party that thinks you are a weakling for refusing to bomb Iran or if you dare to criticize our relationship with Israel? Plus, any success that occurs under Obama's watch goes to him.
On the other hand, it is hard to argue that this is not the will of President Obama. The one campaign promise he has kept from the very beginning has been the escalation of our war in Afghanistan and Pakistan (as a candidate, he even threatened to invade Pakistan). Negotiating and retreating in some circles is called cutting and running, a charge the Obama administration always takes seriously, like all other charges made against him by his opponents (i.e., socialist, Islamist, leftist-, Communist, etc.). They are the only ones he seems to answer to and placate with his policy changes, like keeping Guantanamo Bay open indefinitely, eliminating civilian trials for terrorist suspects, and forming an assassination list filled with the names of claimed terrorists, including American citizens.
With regards to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Obama's policy resembles Patraeus's, whose generalship the president preferred all along (and who politically gains from appearing resolute to the Taliban while extending a conflict he will not have to see the end of before retirement). Moreover, it is highly doubtful that the commanding general is going to advocate a policy departure like negotiating with the Haqqani network without the approval of his commander-in-chief. So, the militarism and maintenance of the occupation of Afghanistan is not ultimately on the general but the president who appointed and entrusted him.
For those who think I am being hyperbolic in my attacks on the president and his preferred general, I do not care so much about them or what you think of my view of their decisions. My considerations are for those who we are murdering en masse and in cold blood on the ground in Pakistan. Here are the consequences of those drone attacks you will not be seeing on your nearest cable news station. Warning, for those who still have a conscience, they are not for the faint of heart.
Think of that the next time someone says these attacks are only killing terrorists and that collateral deaths are somehow an evil necessity in war (a war this administrating is using its generals to extend well beyond the 2011 date that was posited for an exit). Imagine those being your children or loved ones and what your response would be to a country whose government did that to them. I deduce that it would not be unlike many Americans' response to peoples in the Middle East after 9/11. And yet this is what our tax dollars are subsidizing--9/11s sprinkled throughout the hinterlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan with hellfire missiles paid for and ordered by a man I voted for.