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Asia

What prompted Pakistan to ban the Haqqani network?

Pakistan has finally decided to outlaw the militant Haqqani network, which has been responsible for attacks on foreign forces in Afghanistan. Experts, however, say that Islamabad's move is unlikely to be implemented.

Pakistan no longer believed in separating the "good" and "bad" Taliban, a senior government official said on Friday, January 16.

"We have decided to ban the Haqqani network as a step in implementing the National Action Plan devised after the (Peshawar) school attack," the cabinet member told news agency Reuters, referring to a massacre of 134 children by Taliban gunmen last month. A formal announcement of the ban would be made "within weeks," he added.

The decision to outlaw the militant Haqqani group came just days after US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Islamabad and urged Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's administration to fight extremist groups that pose a threat to Afghan, Indian and US interests in the region.

For years, the US had been demanding that Islamabad launch a military action against the Taliban-linked Haqqani network in its semi-governed region of North Waziristan. Washington believes the area is being used by militants as a base to launch attacks on international troops in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistan, however, had always refused to comply, telling the US that the time was not right to start a full-scale offensive against the Haqqanis.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) is greeted by Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif shortly after arriving in Islamabad, Pakistan January 12, 2015 (Photo: REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Islamabad last week

"Why should enemies of the US unnecessarily become our foes," Sartaj Aziz, national security adviser to PM Sharif, told the media in November, 2014. "Some of them were dangerous for us and some are not. Why must we make enemies out of them all?" he said, referring to the Haqqani network.

But some security and defense analysts point out that the ties between Islamabad and the Haqqanis started to become tense after the country's military launched an operation in North Waziristan last June. Pakistani officials, including Army Chief Raheel Rharif, claimed that the offensive against the extremists – known as Zarb-e-Azb – in the country's northwestern areas had been extremely successful in destroying the militants' sanctuaries.

Some also say that the December 16 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, which the Taliban said was a revenge assault for operation Zarb-e-Azb, was the turning point in Islamabad's "soft approach" towards what it considered its "strategic allies" against the regional arch-rival India and its growing influence in neighboring Afghanistan.

The US pressure

"It seems that one of the major reasons to outlaw the Haqqanis is to show the international community that Pakistan is finally pursuing a comprehensive strategy in countering terrorism. Also, Islamabad wants to convince Washington that this time it is serious about going after the militants," Siegfried O. Wolf, senior research fellow and lecturer in International and Comparative Politics at the University of Heidelberg's South Asia Institute, told DW.

O. Wolf believes that Pakistan would not have moved to ban the Haqqani network had John Kerry not explicitly demanded it during his Islamabad visit. "Pakistan depends heavily on the US' military aid. With the withdrawal of NATO combat troops from Afghanistan, and the possible reduction of international attention and financial assistance to regional players, Pakistan was forced to do something to ensure the ongoing US support," the analyst underlined.

A Pakistani soldier walks amidst the debris in an army-run school a day after an attack by Taliban militants in Peshawar on December 17, 2014 (Photo: A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images)

The Taliban school attack in Peshawar was widely condemned nationally and internationally

Haqqanis 'weakened'

Omar Hamid, Head of Asia Pacific Country Risk at IHS, a global analytics firm, says that despite the fact that Islamabad has decided to ban the Haqqanis, and that there is a military operation against them underway, it won't be easy to eliminate the group.

"The fundamental misunderstandings and misgivings between Islamabad and Kabul, and cooperation between the two governments on the Haqqani issue is unlikely," Hamid told DW, adding that a concerted effort was essential if the militant network was to be eliminated anytime soon.

"In the past couple of years, the Haqqanis suffered the losses of key leadership figures as a result of unmanned aerial vehicle strikes and assassinations within Afghanistan and Pakistan, which have immeasurably weakened the group. The capture of two more key members by the Afghan security forces last year will only further weaken the group," Hamid said.

No policy change

South Asia expert O. Wolf warns that the decision to outlaw the Haqqanis should not be mistaken for a change in Pakistan's Afghanistan policy: "At the moment one cannot identify any significant change in Pakistan's foreign and security policy. Pakistan still wants the participation of the Taliban in the Afghanistan government. That the new government in Kabul is also entertaining this idea is allowing the Pakistani establishment to carry on with its 'strategic depth' policy for Afghanistan," he told DW.

Anis Haqqani and Hafiz Rashid of the Haqqani network

Two senior leaders of the Haqqani network were arrested by Afghan security forces in October 2014

Ali K. Chishti, a defense and security analyst in Karachi, has a different take on the issue: "The new army chief thinks that it is high time Pakistan act against all militant organizations regardless of their affiliation with the military and the Pakistani state. Last week, for the first time, the Pakistani forces targeted the Gul Bahadur group. The Haqqani network is frequently bombarded too," Chishti told DW.

Chishti admitted there was room for suspicion considering Pakistan's previous actions against these outfits. "But the current reality is that the Pakistani government and the army are trying to make up for some of their mistakes, and this should be welcomed," the expert stressed.

But O. Wolf says that history is proof that such bans hardly translate into an action. "Pakistan outlawed several militant groups in the past but they have reemerged after regrouping or renaming themselves and continued to operate on Pakistan's soil. Furthermore, there is no proof that the latest military operation in North Waziristan had significantly destroyed the operational structure of the Haqqani Network as claimed by the military," said O. Wolf.

To eliminate the Haqqani Network, the Pakistani government must take a decisive action against the group's leadership and infrastructure, and cut off its financial support. But analysts say that the fact that the army leadership is unwilling to give up control over security matters shows the ban against the Haqqanis is unlikely to be implemented.

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