Haqqani Network Challenges US-Pakistan Relations
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, New York Times, December 29, 2009
ISLAMABAD (AP) -- The bodies kept surfacing -- hanged, shot, beheaded -- and always with a note alleging the victims were anti-Taliban spies. ''Learn a lesson from the fate of this man,'' warned one message found on a corpse in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region.
A senior Pakistani intelligence official told The Associated Press that at least 30 of his agency's operatives have been killed over the past year in the region partly controlled by the al-Qaida-linked Haqqani network. The autonomous Afghan Taliban faction -- whose leader was once a U.S. ally -- is a serious threat to American and NATO troops in Afghanistan's east and operates on both sides of the border with Pakistan.
The U.S. wants Pakistan to expel the network from its North Waziristan sanctuary, especially as 30,000 more U.S. troops head to Afghanistan. But Pakistani officials say taking on the network now is too risky; the killings have helped turn North Waziristan into an intelligence black hole at a time when Pakistan's army is stretched thin fighting insurgents elsewhere.
Some critics suspect Pakistan is simply making excuses because it wants to use the Haqqanis as a future asset to influence Afghanistan and stay ahead of its bigger regional rival, India, after the Americans withdraw. Others say Pakistan is wise to avoid antagonizing a group whose primary focus remains Afghanistan.
The Haqqanis' story is one of shifting alliances in Afghanistan's long history of war and foreign occupation, and one that underscores the difficulty of sorting friend from foe in the current conflict.
The Haqqanis are tied to al-Qaida, technically pledge allegiance to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar and have a history of links to Pakistani intelligence. But ultimately, they feel beholden to no one but themselves, said Kamran Bokhari, an analyst with Stratfor, a U.S-based global intelligence firm.
''Over the years, as Pakistan has been caught in a juggling act between dealing with its own insurgency and the U.S., people like the Haqqanis have become increasingly independent,'' Bokhari said. ''The Haqqanis' goal is to work with whoever is willing to work with them.''
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