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When is a terrorist not a terrorist? America's Haqqani conundrum.

Congress is pushing the State Department to list the Haqqani network in Pakistan as a terrorist organization. Military officials have said Haqqani fighters are America's most formidable foe in Afghanistan, but the Haqqanis could also be key to any reconciliation efforts.

Afghan security personnel leaves the area after a battle with insurgents who took over a building near the US embassy in Kabul earlier this month. US officials have said that the Haqqani insurgent network was behind the attack.

Ahmad Masood/REUTERS

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At first glance, it might seem like a no-brainer for the United States to add the Pakistan-based Haqqani network to its list of foreign terrorist organizations.

A series of US executive orders since 2008 targeting the group’s top leaders has not dissuaded the Haqqanis from attacking US interests in the region. Last week Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cited evidence that the Haqqani network – which he said has close ties to Pakistan’s intelligence agency – was behind the attack on the US embassy in Kabul earlier this month.

Yet even though it appears the State Department, under intense pressure from Congress, is moving closer to adding the group to the US terrorist list, there are also several key reasons the US is weighing the designation carefully.

Among them:

  • Designating the Haqqani network would deal another blow to US-Pakistan cooperation, and could – given accusations such as Mullen’s – encourage pressure to add Pakistan to the US list of state sponsors of terror.
  • Making the designation would suggest to some Afghans and Pakistanis that the US is throwing in the towel on reconciliation efforts as a critical component of the strategy to wind down the Afghanistan war.
  • Listing the Haqqanis might not offer the benefits, in terms of dealing any financial blow to the group, to outweigh the costs it could entail.
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