There are two competing narratives out today regarding the war in Afghanistan and our relationship with Pakistan. First comes the news, long awaited, that the United States will brand another organization in the region as a terrorist group:
Clinton confirmed that the US plans to designate the so-called Haqqani network as a "foreign terrorist organisation." The network is based in Pakistan, and considered the deadliest threat to US and Nato forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s intelligence services have long been accused of having close links to the Haqqani network. Qureshi declined to comment directly on the US plan to act against the group.
"The US wants Pakistan to disassociate itself from the Haqqani group, and to the extent that it can and it will, to go after [them]," Mosharraf Zaidi, a Pakistani journalist, told Al Jazeera. "But there is a very wide gulf between the two countries on this issue."
On the other hand, Secretary Clinton seems to want some kind of negotiations with the Haqqani network and other similar groups, so says the New York Times:
Mrs. Clinton offered guarded support for peace negotiations with the Haqqani network and other insurgent groups as a way to end the war in Afghanistan. But she cautioned Afghans and Pakistanis to enter such talks with open eyes.
Well, which is it?
So-called security analysts might tell you that this kind of mixed messaging is actually smart negotiating tactics. Bring in the rough stuff – the terrorist designation – as your stick and offer the carrot of negotiations and political reconciliation to bring these groups to the table. I don’t think it’s nearly that simple because this analysis ignores the politics.
First and foremost, the designation of "terrorist" drastically lessens the likelihood we’ll engage in negotiations. We don’t negotiate with terrorists, right? Once this group is an official terrorist organization, the domestic politics of the situation all but preclude direct negotiations, and severely hamper indirect negotiations.
Even if we do pursue negotiations, it’s likely a group would have to get removed from the terrorist list before those negotiations start. This means they’ll have to demonstrate that they are no longer "terrorists," a nebulous word. It also means in practicality there are significant pre-conditions to negotiation. Security analysts might say that’s smart, but reality says it simply means negotiations never start in the first place.
From my viewpoint, designating an organization as a terrorist organization does little for security – terrorism should be a law enforcement problem anyway – and it only hampers political reconciliation, which is the only way to end the war anyway. A move like this by the U.S. will only keep us in Afghanistan longer, wasting more of our money and costing more of our citizens’ lives.
And no, Secretary Clinton, you can’t have it both ways.