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Terrorists thrive as US turns blind eye


Paul McGeough

<i>Illustration: Simon Bosch</i>

Illustration: Simon Bosch

Who would have thought in a post-September 11 world that you could find an organisation that kills hundreds of Americans in dozens of terrorist strikes - but which Washington refuses to punitively brand a ''foreign terrorist organisation''.

Check where this network operated from, and be amazed that instead of being sin-binned as a ''state sponsor of terrorism'', it's host government is feted with big fat aid cheques from Washington.

The US often attempts to pre-ordain the outcome of a conflict by casting out some parties as FTOs - foreign terrorist organisations. But we'll not be having any of that in Afghanistan. Take a bow, Haqqani Network; congratulations, Pakistan. You both have beaten the rap in Washington.

As the Haqqani Network demonstrated so spectacularly with its attacks across Afghanistan last Sunday, it is definitely an FTO - it is foreign, its business is terrorism and its targets often are Americans and US national security. And without question, the cover provided by Islamabad, in allowing the Haqqani Network to operate from its territory, makes Pakistan a state-sponsor of terrorism.

The problem, of course, is that the US is desperate to get its troops home, out of the Afghanistan quagmire as quickly as it possibly can. To offend the Haqqani family and their Pakistani hosts by calling them what they are and treating them as the US treats others like them, would serve only to prolong the war needlessly.

The network has its eyes on the carve-up of territory and resources after the 2014 departure of American forces and their coalition allies. And so does Pakistan, which seeks to usher Washington to the exit of what Islamabad hopes will be a weak and dependent Afghanistan.

In the good-guy, bad-guy shorthand of Afghanistan, the bad guys are collectively referred to as the Taliban. But while the Haqqani Network is in league with the Taliban, it also runs its own race - and with the endgame upon us, it can be relied on to be more assertive in its own interests.

Hence the ''shock'n'awe'' element in last Sunday's attacks. Despite a huge coalition and Afghan security presence, dozens of fighters covered hundreds of kilometres to get to seven targets in four cities at the appointed time, 1.45pm.

The layered logistics, financing, training and intelligence behind the operation, only too well understood by American military and other observers, seemed to signal another significant growth spurt by the Haqqani Network. Amazingly, an operation that would have taken weeks, if not months to organise was put in place with virtually no ''chatter'' being picked up by the Americans' huge eavesdropping machinery.

Described by The New York Times as the Sopranos of the Afghanistan war, the network is a family-run business, making money from kidnapping, smuggling and trucking through eastern Afghanistan, where it has as many as 15,000 fighters.

Its extortion racket is especially riveting, because it is the conduit by which much of the network's funding comes from … er, US taxpayers. Contractors who service the US war and reconstruction machines are obliged to pay a cut to the network - or be bombed out of business. The head of the family is the aged Jalaluddin Haqqani who in his different jihadist guises has been an ally of the CIA, Riyadh and Osama bin Laden. And just as the US was his ally against the Soviets in the 1980s, the Pakistanis have become his ally against the Americans today.

These days, much of the network's operational tasks are delegated to his sons and extended family.

Charlie Wilson, the US congressman who almost single-handedly diverted billions of US tax dollars to the Afghan war against Soviet occupation in the 1980s, once described the mercurial Haqqani patriarch as ''goodness personified''.

When Haqqani gunmen besieged the US embassy in Kabul late last year, the then chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen lashed out, accusing the Pakistani intelligence service - known as the ISI - of helping the attackers. The ISI is also accused of aiding a Haqqani assault on Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel months earlier.

American officials have said for years in his previous capacity as head of the ISI, the man who now heads the Pakistani military, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, ran his country's covert support for groups like the Haqqani Network.

A part of Afghanistan's Zadran tribe, the family claims a right to rule in three Afghan border provinces - Khost, Paktia and Paktika. But it is reputedly headquartered across the border, in Miram Shah, in the Pakistani region known as North Waziristan. The US preoccupation with the south of Afghanistan and the Taliban has allowed the Haqqani Network to flourish, imposing a reign of fear across much of the territory it claims as its own. By one US estimate, Haqqani cross-border attacks into Afghanistan last year were up five-fold and roadside bombs up 20 per cent on the previous year. More chilling are reports of hundreds of assassinations, some by beheading, of villagers as a punishment for co-operating with the Americans or as a warning not to.

So in Afghanistan, there is an unblinkered reality about what has to be done. Repeated appeals for the network to be designated as an FTO and less frequent calls for Pakistan to be named as a state sponsor of terror go nowhere.

The US has limited itself to naming some network individuals as terrorists. It's also putting out feelers, it wants to talk to the Haqqani Network.

''As repulsive as it is, any future peace settlement will have to come to terms with [it],'' says Professor Audrey Kurth Cronin of George Mason University. ''Indeed, one reason the Obama administration has never designated the group as an FTO is precisely because it has its eye on [the] endgame.''


  • It is difficult to think how the US could have conducted its presence in Afghanistan in a more inept way. They pay the price there, as they did in Vietnam, for ignoring history and maintaining a blind faith in the effectiveness of a technocratic approach to war when each day sees the 'primitive' technology of warlords, bandits, Taliban and a host of other ragbag exploiters of women and children thumb their noses at the US and allies presence. Less than three years after the US forces withdraw from Afghanistan that country will be a chaotic, rancid, fragmented, drug fed collection of ideologues. We will not have established a 'democracy' there and the corrupt Karzai regime will have a free rein to do to its 'citizens' what the Taliban did during its reign of terror. A US led collection of allies will have once again spent a fortune, lost too many lives of its young men and women and gained nothing geo-politically for their sacrifice. The women of Afghanistan will continue to be treated by medievalists, exploited, kept ignorant by use of fear and oppression. When historians trawl over the Afghanistan war against terror they will use the events and experiences of Alexander the Great 2000 years ago and the British of 200 years ago as signifiers of just how appalling, inefficient and inconsequential was this recent effort by the West to bring civilization to Afghanistan. I cry for our casualties in this abomination -this George Bush monstrosity.

    Date and time
    April 22, 2012, 9:14AM
    • The US defining terrorists is farcical, as historically the US labels and relabels to suit its interests. This so called 'war on terror', which by definition is unending, and mass-destroying civilians only generates a new cycle of violence, also provides US corporatists unlimited wealth creation. In the aftermath of 9/11 corporatist inc. have capitalized on fear and uncertainty by radically increasing policing, surveillance, detention and war-waging powers of its executive branch. Billions of dollars have funnelled through the Pentagon to private contractors, US intelligence agencies, Homeland Security, disaster reconstruction contracts, even aid; all these newly enhanced and richly funded functions of security, invasion, occupation and reconstruction are outsourced, handed over to the private sector to perform at profit.
      From a military perspective, the sprawling and asymmetrical traits of this 'war' make it an unwinnable proposition, but from an economic perspective, it is unbeatable. This is a brand new economy in homeland security, privatized war, and disaster reconstruction – this is a privatized security state, nationally and internationally.
      The public have been fed the line of fighting terrorism, however the effect, is the creation of the disaster capitalism complex.
      As Chomsky rightly says, 'if you want to end terrorism, then stop participating in it'. Pretty simple really.

      St Andrews Beach
      Date and time
      April 22, 2012, 10:59AM
      • So what is the implication in the last paragraph? Does the US plan on installing the Haqqani network as a controlling interest?
        The bloodshed will continue, no doubt..

        Scott W
        Date and time
        April 22, 2012, 2:36PM
        • "Foreign terrorist organisation"?
          I don't want to defend these guys (at all), but they are very clearly in fact a domestic Afghan insurgency, fighting against the foreign army which is occupying THEIR country. These guys aren't like al-Qaeda were, attacking Americans and Europeans at home. Nor did they choose this conflict. If America, Australia and our various allies had the common sense to just leave them the hell alone then they would leave us alone too.

          The reality which the Americans have come to recognise is that, short of committing genocide, there is no way to win a war of occupation militarily. This is because every military "victory" just aggrieves the local population more, inspiring more of them to join the fight. Acknowledging this does not amount to legitimisation of one's enemies. It's nothing more than having the common sense to join "the reality-based community”, rather than operating under the absurd delusion that we are so powerful that ”when we act we create our own reality".

          Like it or not our coalition is going to have to either deal with these guys or else leave Afghanistan in an undignified manner with our collective tails between our legs (like we did in Vietnam). But in this case if our exit is messy Afghanistan may once again become a haven for ACTUAL international terrorists, so the stakes are higher. And calling the people who we have to negotiate with names is not going to make our exit any cleaner or easier.

          Date and time
          April 22, 2012, 4:52PM
          • McGeough should have an interesting tome when the end-game has played out. He has been on the Afghanistan issue from the beginning. Has all the treasure and the many lives sunk into the place produced anything that advances the world beyond the situation in 2001?

            Blue Mountains
            Date and time
            April 22, 2012, 5:05PM
            • Barrack Obama cannot afford to escalate or even divert current troops to any other threat as legitimate as the threat may be. It is an election year and his commitment to pull the troops back is paramount to his survival. He is running a thin line at the present time and the closer we get to the election, the more critical it is to positively sway voter opinion. I am sure the world intelligence communities are aware of the threat but could lose voter confidence if they divert from their "winning the war against terrorism" facade.

              Rito R
              Date and time
              April 22, 2012, 7:30PM
              • Exactly what is this "endgame"? It sounds very much like the rest of the "game" before the US decided to oust the non co-operative Taliban. Someone should tell the US there is no endgame and there will never be an endgame as long as it continues to support one bastard after another in it's naieve beleief that it can transform a societyy simply by killing one set of opressors in favour of another. The problem with having your own bastards is that eventually they too turn against you for some reason or another as the taliban and many other regimes once friendly to the US and thus the west have shown. There is no endgame. in fact there is no game, this is serious stuff we see constantly being enacted in the world and yet the startegists and planners seem to contiue ot belive this sisall part fot he "Great game" once lauded by some cynical and well protected policy shonl in the Britain. Considering the amounf of wanton killing done by all sides, because as Paul rightly points out there are many of them, it is evident that the level of violence will contiue to rise and ebb for many years to come as the sons, daughters, nephews and sundry others seek vengeance for whatever injusice meted out to their families and thus the cycle of killing and revenge goes on and on and on. If there is some possible perceived 'endgame" then it is time someone spelled it out ot us as as for the time being I doubt anyone truly can see any end to this madness anytime soon.

                the beach
                Date and time
                April 22, 2012, 10:16PM
                • "less frequent calls for Pakistan to be named as a state sponsor of terror"

                  That's right. The got the bomb. The A-bomb. And lots of them. Unlike the Iraqis, there is the slightest chance that they would be able to fight back against an invasion.... sorry, regime change. And people wonder why a nation like Iran, surrounded by enemies, could want that as well.

                  Caffetierra Moka
                  Sector 7-G
                  Date and time
                  April 23, 2012, 8:03AM
                  • it's enough to make you think that hubris is genetic. the usa, driven by the individual political desires of the 'leaders' of the nation, wanders from the idiocy of iraq to the insanity of afghanistan, with iran beckoning seductively, all the while thinking getting elected depends on military success.

                    and it does: military spending is widely distributed, and the munitions industry is about the only one left in america that employs many.

                    god help australia, for its leaders are bound up in this fantasy too. we can only hope that the chinese ambassador is able to educate the australian government.

                    al loomis
                    woy woy
                    Date and time
                    April 23, 2012, 8:56AM
                    Comments are now closed

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