<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.''