RAROTONGA, Cook Islands – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is facing a Congressional deadline for deciding whether the Pakistani Haqqani network meets the definition of a terrorist organization. Labeling the group as such may complicate Afghan reconciliation efforts and U.S. relations with Pakistan.
Secretary Clinton says she will meet the September 9 deadline to tell Congress whether the Haqqani group should be considered terrorists.
Several leaders of the al-Qaida- and Taliban-linked group are already subject to U.S. sanctions, but Congress wants the entire Haqqani network named a terrorist organization as it is now widely seen as the biggest threat to U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan.
With the deadline approaching, there have been press reports of division within the Obama administration on the Haqqani question between those who see the terrorist designation as a show of strength and those who are more cautious about its regional impact.
Speaking to reporters in the Cook Islands, Secretary Clinton refused to comment on those reports, seeking instead to underscore what she says is steady U.S. pressure on the group.
"We are drying up their resources. We are targeting their military and intelligence personnel. We are pressing the Pakistanis to step up their own efforts. So we're already taking action, and we will have more to say about the specific request from the Congress next week," said Clinton.
The secretary of state is empowered to designate the group a terrorist organization if she determines that it is engaged in activities that threaten the security of the United States and its citizens.
Adding Haqqani to that list could slow efforts to negotiate an end to the Afghan conflict as it may be more difficult to include Haqqani leaders in a new government. There remain hopes that talks with the Taliban that were suspended in March could resume with the end of this year's Afghan fighting season.
Secretary Clinton says those are decisions for Afghans. She discussed the issue here in the Cook Islands with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who agrees that the question of negotiating with the Taliban or other groups is fundamentally a matter for Kabul.
"They will in the end have to try and find a way through what is a difficult situation and come to a conclusion of how that can best be handled. And I wouldn't be surprised if part of that attempt to deliver greater security in Afghanistan is some discussions, but that's ultimately a matter for President [Hamid] Karzai," said Key.
Secretary Clinton's decision on the Haqqani network could also affect relations with Pakistan as the group is believed to have close ties with elements of Pakistani intelligence services that are pushing for its inclusion in Afghan reconciliation efforts.
Months of sour relations between the United States and Pakistani are only just now easing with July's reopening of crucial military supply lines across the Afghan border that Pakistan closed following last year's killing of 24 Pakistani troops in a U.S. air strike.
On a visit to Islamabad last month, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Pakistan's military will soon begin a long-awaited offensive in the North Waziristan border region, where the Haqqani network is based.
U.S. officials say a drone strike in Pakistan last week killed the day-to-day operations commander of the network, Badruddin Haqqani.