The United States will designate the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, accused of high-profile attacks in Afghanistan, as a terrorist organization, the U.S. State Department said on Friday, in a move that would trigger sanctions against the group and turns up the heat on Pakistan's government.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed a report to Congress on Friday in Brunei stating that the network met the criteria to be designated as a foreign terrorist organization, the department said. A U.S. official said the formal designation would be made in the coming days.
"Based on that assessment, she will notify Congress that she intends to designate the Haqqani network as an FTO (foreign terrorist organization) and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Entity," the official said as Clinton attended an APEC summit in Vladivostok, Russia.
The Haqqanis, a Pashtun tribe with strongholds in southeastern Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan, have been blamed for an attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul and other high-profile assaults in Afghanistan.
The United States accuses Pakistan's intelligence agency of supporting the Haqqani network and using it as a proxy in Afghanistan to gain leverage against the growing influence of its arch-rival India in the country.
Pakistan denies the allegations.
Formal designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization would increase pressure on the Pakistani government, but any actual effects beyond that were unclear since most of the Haqqani leaders have already been blacklisted individually.
A senior Pakistani security official said blacklisting the Haqqani network would be counterproductive and would put unnecessary pressure on Islamabad, a strategic U.S. ally.
"If the United States wants to have a constructive relationship with Pakistan, then this is a bad move," the official told Reuters. "This will push Pakistan into a corner."
In June, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the United States was reaching the limits of its patience with Pakistan because of the safe havens that groups like the Haqqanis found there.
Designation by the State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization would bring sanctions such as criminal penalties for anyone providing material support to the group and seizure of any assets in the United States.
The Obama administration is facing a congressional deadline this weekend to determine whether the network met the criteria for such designation.
The Haqqanis run a sophisticated and diverse financial network comparable to a mafia group, according to a July report by the Center for Combating Terrorism.
It said the group raised money through kidnapping, extortion and drug trafficking but also had a business portfolio that included import/export, transport, real estate and construction interests in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Persian Gulf.
But the group had never had to deal with a sustained attack on its finances, author Gretchen Peters said, and might be vulnerable to cash flow choke points and attacks on its small and centralized command structure.
"Network leaders appear to be as motivated by profit-making as they are driven by issues like revenge, honor and ideology," the report said.
In Kabul, a government spokesman said any move by Washington against the Haqqanis was welcome.
"This will be a major step by the United States against the Haqqani network who are still plotting for dangerous and destructive attacks against us," said Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.
© 2015 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.