Dispatch: The Haqqani Factor in U.S.-Pakistan-Taliban Negotiations

4 MINS READSep 19, 2011 | 22:48 GMT
Director of Analysis Reva Bhalla explains the melding interests of the Pakistan-Taliban-Haqqani triad as the United States attempts to negotiate its way out of the war in Afghanistan.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Shortly following a major attack in Kabul, the Haqqani network, one of the three key elements to negotiating an end to the U.S. war in Afghanistan, said that it was ready to enter negotiations. This is a key piece of the puzzle to fall into place, as back-channel talks are taking place between the United States and the Taliban, and Afghanistan, the Taliban and the Haqqani network are working together in trying to shape their collective negotiating position. On Saturday, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, said in a rare phone interview with Reuters that if the Taliban takes part in negotiations with the U.S. and Afghan government, then so will the Haqqani network. Haqqani's statement comes just four days after a major attack on U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul in which the Taliban in coordination with Haqqani elements attacked the heart of capital security zone using light weapons, rocket propelled grenades and suicide vests. That attack lasted roughly 20 hours and left 15 people dead and six foreign troops wounded. back-channel talks are already taking place between the United States and the Taliban, with Mullah Omar speaking on behalf of the Afghan militant movement and Pakistan acting as the key mediator in these talks. For the United States, the strategic rationale for the war in Afghanistan is already eroding and will continue to erode as the election campaign season intensifies. Pakistan wants the United States to end the war through these negotiations, but it also wants security guarantees from the U.S. to help defend against Pakistan's large neighbor India. Pakistan also wants to be given the political space and recognition to re-establish its sphere of influence in Afghanistan. The Taliban has the most flexibility when it comes to time in these negotiations, but it wants to ensure that when the U.S. leaves, it leaves with the understanding that the Taliban would remain as the dominant political force in Afghanistan. The Taliban will continue to use major attacks to try and increase its leverage in these talks and to try to increase U.S. desperation to get out of the war, but it would be doing so with the intent of having its demands heard in a broader negotiation. The Haqqani network's decision to display public interest in negotiations thus comes at a very critical time. The Haqqani network is among the most lethal and resilient amongst the Afghan militant landscape. This is a group that not only has relationships with the Taliban but also with Al Qaeda and the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment. The Haqqani network operates in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border as well as in and around Kabul. This means that the Taliban, whose strongholds are primarily concentrated in southern Afghanistan, rely heavily on the Haqqani network to project influence and carry out attacks in Kabul. There are three key elements to any negotiating effort that the U.S. makes in Afghanistan. Those three are Pakistan, the Taliban and the Haqqani network. Now they are multiple deferring interests, and a number of sub factions within each of these groups, but they do largely work in concert. There are two extremely revealing facets of Sirajuddin Haqqani's statement. One was his claim that his network no longer had sanctuaries in Pakistan and felt secure inside Afghanistan. The second was that the Haqqani network would be following the Taliban's lead in any negotiations with the U.S. This shows a high degree of coordination within the Pakistan-Taliban-Haqqani triad. The claim that the Haqqani network no longer has sanctuaries in Pakistan is bogus, but it could be seen as a gesture toward Pakistan as Islamabad is entering very hard negotiations with the United States over how to deal with the Haqqani threat. What we're seeing, in essence, is an entirely new phase of the war in Afghanistan and of greater sophistication to the negotiating effort overall. The coming weeks and months will be trying as the Pakistan/Taliban/Haqqani triad carry out more major attacks in trying to shape their negotiating positions, but, slowly and surely, the pieces are falling into place to allow the United States to bring closure to this war.
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