Doubts over UN Haqqani sanctions

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The Haqqani militant network has become one of the greatest threats to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, but there are doubts American and UN efforts to restrict it through sanctions will have much impact.

The U.N. Security Council on Monday added the group to its Afghanistan-Taliban sanctions list, ordering nations to freeze Haqqani assets, enforce an arms embargo and apply a travel ban on senior member Qari Zakir.

Washington designated the Haqqanis as a “Foreign Terrorist Organisation” in September, a move that made it a crime in the United States to provide them with material support and froze any of their property or interests in the U.S.

But despite fears at the time that the step could drag Pakistan, where some of its leaders are based, closer towards the pariah status of state sponsor of terror, the U.S. sanctions have had little obvious effect.

Rahimullah Yusufzai, a leading expert on tribal affairs, told AFP the U.N. move was likely to be equally ineffectual.

“There will be no visible impact of such sanctions -- the United Nations has followed the U.S.,” he said.

“In the past, such sanctions have not affected militant groups including Haqqanis.”

The Haqqani network was founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani -- a disciplined Afghan guerrilla leader bankrolled by the United States to fight Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s -- who is now based with his family in Pakistan.

In the 1980s Jalaluddin was close to the CIA and Pakistani intelligence. He allied himself to the Taliban after they took power in Kabul in 1996, serving as a cabinet minister under the militia’s supreme leader, Mullah Omar.

When American troops arrived after the 9/11 attacks Haqqani looked up old friends and sought refuge in North Waziristan, becoming one of the first anti-U.S. commanders based in Pakistan’s border areas.

He has training bases in eastern Afghanistan, is close to Al-Qaeda and his fighters are active across east and southeastern Afghanistan and in the capital Kabul.

Supporters of sanctions say the financial restrictions will help disrupt the Haqqani network’s fundraising activities in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

But Yusufzai said barring the Haqqanis from conventional sources of money would not achieve a great deal.

“Such militant groups have their own system of collecting funds and they do not follow the countries’ banking systems,” he said.

“They have secret systems of collecting donations, so these sanctions will have very little impact.”

Militarily the most capable of the Taliban factions, the network operates independently but remains loyal to Mullah Omar and would probably support any peace deal negotiated by the Taliban leadership.

Now in his late 70s and frail, Jalaluddin’s seat on the Afghan Taliban leadership council has passed to his son Sirajuddin, who effectively runs a fighting force of at least 2,000 men.

The United States blames the network for some of the most spectacular attacks in Afghanistan, such as a 2011 siege on the U.S. embassy and, in 2009, the deadliest attack on the CIA in 25 years.

Washington has long since designated Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin “global terrorists” but in July Congress urged the State Department to blacklist the entire network.

Before the U.S. designation, a Pakistani security official warned that such a move would take the Washington-Islamabad relationship “back to square one” and undo efforts to repair fractious ties.

Last year, the outgoing top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, called the Haqqanis the “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s ISI spy agency, although other American officials later distanced themselves from the remarks.