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U.S. slaps sanctions on Haqqani leader

WASHINGTON – If you were thinking of selling any golf clubs or spare parts to a certain insurgent commander in Pakistan, think again. As of today the State Department has made it illegal to conduct business with Badruddin Haqqani, commander of the famed Haqqani Network.

Why? “This action will help stem the flow of financial and other assistance to this dangerous individual,” State Department said, in a release on Wednesday. Why now? That’s less clear.

“I think it’s definitely overdue,” said Jeffrey Dressler, senior research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War and co-author of a new report on the Haqqani expansion, released Monday.  

The State Department said Haqqani is a dangerous “operational commander” of the network and was behind the kidnapping of New York Times reporter David Rohde, who escaped in 2009 after seven months in captivity.  The U.N. also added Haqqani’s name Wednesday to a watch list that equates to an “assets freeze, a travel ban, and an arms embargo against this individual” across all United Nations member states.

The Haqqani Network, based in Pakistan’s Federally Administrated Tribal Areas and across North Waziristan is considered the most dangerous insurgent network in the Af-Pak conflict. Its supporters outnumber al-Qaida’s dwindling numbers in the region, and have the focus of U.S. war commanders.

“Haqqani has business interests in major Pakistani cities,” Dressler said, including smuggling, kidnapping, extorting development construction projects, and receiving funding from supporters in the Persian Gulf states.

So, restricting above-the-table financial dealings with a group whose funding is largely illegitimate may not actually restrict much of anything.

“I think the timing it interesting,” Dressler said, but he felt it was unlikely to be tied to the intelligence recovered in last week’s raid on Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound, as it takes more time to build these cases for sanctions.

Instead, as a symbolic move, the sanctions may be aimed more at cutting off the Haqqani Network from its supporters more than the man himself -- something the U.S. has said Pakistan is not doing enough to quell. Pakistani security establishments, Dressler said, know the Haqqanis because they travel to cities frequently and have participated openly in negotiations supported by the Pakistani government with ethnic tribes.

Already, American forces have stepped up actions against the group, targeting, killing and capturing many of its members with increased drone strikes and special operations missions. On Tuesday, the outgoing commander of coalition troops in Afghanistan’s east, Maj. Gen. Campbell, said the Haqqani Network was “the most lethal threat, we believe, to Afghanistan.”

“They have sanctuary in Pakistan,” Campbell said. “They come across the border. They kill coalition. They kill innocent women and children. They are well funded. They have the ability to regenerate. We've killed many, many Haqqani.”

But they keep coming back, he said.  And they’re not likely to lay down their arms and join any post-conflict civil society building as is envisioned with some Taliban Afghans.

“They do have this uncanny ability to continue to regenerate forces in the madrassas,” Campbell said, growing at a rate of 10 percent.

Badruddin Haqqani is the son of former Taliban military commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose brother, Khalil al Rahman Haqqani, in February became the third family member named to the State Department’s terrorist watch list, along with his nephew, financier Nasiruddin Haqqani, and Jalaluddin's other son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, a Taliban commander connected to al-Qaida and described as the network's operational commander.

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