Monday, February 17, 2014

Sanctions: An Auxiliary Alternative versus Drone Strikes in Pakistan

     While the Pakistani government is negotiating with members of the Taliban, they have asked the United States to halt drone strikes in their country.  In fact, a United States drone has not struck the nation of Pakistan since late last year.  The United States is treading carefully in the region trying not to further upset Pakistan while trying to court Afghan President Hamid Karzai into keeping US and NATO forces there post 2014 withdrawal.  Some believe since Karzai is leaving office before the supposed "zero option" is set to take place, the US can negotiate with the next Afghan leader.

     With the US on thin ice, it has faced a great deal of deliberation in terms of how to combat terrorism in the region.  The number one method had been drone strikes.  One step the US has utilized is to issue sanctions against terrorist entities or individuals who pose threats to the national security.  The Office of Foreign Assets Control, an arm of the United States Treasury Department, has sanctioned three individuals "whose property and interest in property are blocked."  Pursuant to Executive Order 13224, which was issued in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks and "declared a national emergency to address grave acts of terrorism and threats of terrorism committed by foreign terrorists."  These sanctions were set to go into effect on February 5, 2014 and would bar nations and entities from engaging in business with the sanctioned individuals. 

     The three individuals are believed to belong to the radical Haqqani Network, a terrorist organization with ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.  The group was named after their leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani and based in North Wazirstan in the Pakistani Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).  Mr. Haqqani has gained sufficient funding and assets from other Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia and had even established close ties with Osama bin Laden.  The network also held close relations with Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Pakistani intelligence Service.  Haqqani assisted the mujahideen in Afghanistan's fight against Russian forces, which is why they were able to gain such prominence with government entities in the region.

     The Haqqani Network continues to have close ties with Pakistani officials and still operates within their borders and in Afghanistan.  According to the Institute for the Study of War, "Elements within the Pakistani security establishment continue to view the Haqqani network as a useful ally and proxy force to represent their interests in Afghanistan. The Haqqani network was able to expand beyond Loya-Paktia towards Kabul from 2005 to 2006, providing the network with the ability to execute attacks in the Afghan capital."  In addition, the Institute for the Study of War stated that the Haqqani Network proved difficult to "reverse momentum" due to lack of sufficient US coalition forces.  US forces were able to achieve significant advances against the group through a "massive increase of special operations forces," an "increase in the number of conventional forces to execute counterinsurgency operations," and an "increased drone campaign against senior Haqqani safe havens in North Waziristan," which has disrupted their ability to coordinate and plan.

     Combating terrorism has demonstrated itself to be far more difficult than it may have originally seemed.  Drone strikes are easy for the United States because drones do not put any American soldiers in harm's way.  However, many nations, especially Pakistan, view the strikes to be a violation of their state sovereignty.  Deploying Special Forces has also proved effective in certain situations yet it is much riskier, puts American lives directly at risk, and can also be construed as a violation of state sovereignty.  For this reason, the US feels it imperative to improve relations with Pakistan and convince Afghanistan to sign a bilateral security agreement so the United States can continue its efforts without violating international constructs in conjunction with these host nations.

     In the absence of drone strikes, there have been 46 attacks in 45 days in Pakistan.  Whether or not there is a direct correlation is still subject to debate, but a recent report stated, "The detractors of the drone attacks were of the view that the Taliban-sponsored terrorist activities were actually retaliatory actions and the most viable way to stop terrorism in Pakistan was to put an end to the US drone strikes."  It is difficult for the United States to work with nations who negotiate with and in some cases harbor terrorist groups.

     Placing sanctions on three Haqqani Network individuals is a start to declaring a position on the matter as well as attempting to halt funds in an effort to inhibit further activity.  But if nations are going to continue to provide needed support to these groups, what is the next step?  Drones are very controversial and again, there is no direct correlation between an active drone campaign and diminished terror activity.  Rather, evidence suggests that drone activity spurs terrorism as a retaliatory mechanism.  However, the US appears to show no signs of completely stopping the drone campaign as it is planning for a contingency to establish bases in Asia from which to launch drone strikes into Pakistan if the Afghan agreement fails and its bases must close there. 

     Many believe sanctions are what brought Iran to the negotiating table in terms of curtailing their uranium enrichment but in this sense, sanctioning non-state actors is much different.  Iran's economy was suffering and their government had a responsibility to bring prosperity back - a major campaign promise of President Hassan Rouhani.  Non-state actors are constantly evolving and it is unclear if simply sanctioning them will suffice.  President Obama is just over a quarter of the way through his last term in office, which means his long term efforts in the War on Terror may be subject to change depending on who 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue's newest resident will be in 2016. This begs the question what else can President Obama effectively do to quell rising terrorism threats?

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