Max Boot is correct to call for the designation of the Haqqani Network as a terrorist group, but he does not go far enough in sketching out the implications. The reason why the State Department has not pushed forward with the designation is not only because U.S. diplomats want to maintain the ability to negotiate with the Haqqanis, but because designating the Haqqanis would make it very difficult to avoid listing Pakistan as a state sponsor of terror.
The fact that the Haqqani Network is a terrorist group is irrefutable. The White House may want to drag its feet in pursuit of some diplomatic fiction, but the Congress may not be so tolerant. Already, there is a bill in the House calling for the designation. It may not be such a long shot: Remember, the White House opposed further sanctions on Iran, but the Senate voted 100-0 to impose them anyway. Only after they showed some positive effect did the White House retroactively claim credit.
Negotiating with the Haqqanis—or any terrorist group—is bad policy; it never works. The Haqqanis are not operating to rectify a grievance, but are conducting terrorism in pursuit of a radical, religious ideology. They do not see compromise as a virtue. Successful diplomacy is not based on fiction, but on reality.
It is for this reason that we need to have a serious discussion about whether or not Pakistan qualifies as a state sponsor of terror. Pakistan not only hosts and supplies the Haqqani Network but, as Osama bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad shows, its powers that be are also complicit with al-Qaeda. Designation of Pakistan as a state sponsor of terror will certainly have implications on logistical routes into Afghanistan, but as Pakistan’s recent about face on trucking American supplies shows, it recognizes its hand is not as strong as it thought. As my colleague Reza Jan argues, it now has interest bills on loans coming due, and Washington wields more power than Islamabad at the International Monetary Fund and other international financial organs.
If we are ever going to get U.S.-Pakistani relations on the right foot, it is essential we deal with the root problem responsible for all the other ill-symptoms. And if that mandates calling a spade a spade, then so be it.