Political experts say that the US is upping pressure on Pakistan to go after the militant Haqqani network. They say the 'death' of Badruddin Haqqani is a also a ‘message to Islamabad.’
Afghanistan said on Sunday that its intelligence sources had confirmed the death of Badruddin Haqqani - the son of the network's founder Jalaluddin Haqqani - in a recent US drone strike in Pakistan's tribal North Waziristan region.
"The elimination of Badruddin Haqqani will deal a major blow and serious setback to the Haqqani network," Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told the media.
Shafiquallh Tahriri, spokesman for the Afghan spy agency, the National Directorate of Security, cited intelligence reports collected from Pakistan which confirmed that Haqqani was killed last week in a US drone raid.
But the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban denied these claims. On Saturday, the Afghan Taliban said claims of Haqqani's death were part of Pakistani and American "propaganda."
Maulvi Ahmed Jan, a Haqqani network commander, also said that Haqqani was alive.
Haqqani's Pakistan connection
The United States blames the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network for launching attacks on international troops in Afghanistan from North Waziristan. Washington accuses the Haqqani network of sabotaging peace efforts in Afghanistan, and claims that the group is backed by the Pakistan spy agency, the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI).
Conrad Schetter, an Afghanistan expert at Bonn University's Center for Development Research, said the ties between the ISI and Haqqanis were strong. "ISI supported the Haqqani group in the 1980s in its fight against the Soviet Red Army in Afghanistan. The Haqqani network has proven to be a very loyal and reliable partner to ISI ever since. Today the Pakistani government supports the Haqqani Network so it can attain its goals in Afghanistan," Schetter told DW.
Islamabad says it is in contact with the Haqqanis but that it does not support the group. Pakistani officials have repeatedly said that they are committed to fighting the international "war on terror."
'A major blow'
Owais Tohid, a journalist in Karachi, told DW that if the reports about Haqqani's death were correct, it would certainly be a major blow to the Haqqani network.
"People close to Badruddin Haqqani deny their leader's death, however, the local sources in North Waziristan have suggested that an important Haqqani leader has been killed," Tohid said.
Tohid said the US wanted to convey a message to the Pakistani authorities that it would unilaterally go after the Haqqani militants ignoring Islamabad's official protests against the drone strikes on its soil. Tohid, however, said that there were signs that Pakistan was finally preparing to launch a military operation in North Waziristan against the Haqqanis.
Pakistan's political and defense experts say the US drone strikes are very unpopular in Pakistan, and for that reason the Pakistani authorities think it would be better if they launch their own attack in North Waziristan rather than allowing the US to act unilaterally.
Operation against the Haqqanis
"There is going to be a military operation against the Haqqanis but it is not going to be a big-scale operation," said Tohid, adding that the Pakistani authorities also feared the backlash from the militants.
Earlier this month, the Pakistani media reported that ISI chief Lieutenant General Zaheer ul-Islam finally succumbed to US pressure and agreed to launch a military attack against the Haqqani network. Observers say that the agreement was a result of numerous meetings between US and Pakistani officials, and was not easy to achieve. They added that Pakistani authorities, in particular the ISI, have been reluctant to fight the Haqqanis, whom they consider "strategic assets" for maintaining influence in Afghanistan.
Defense expert Talat Masood told DW that the military operation was in the "best interest of all parties."
"Pakistan had always maintained that it would launch a military operation against the Haqqanis at the right time," said Masood, adding that the time appeared ripe for such an operation.