WASHINGTON: Congress is stepping up the pressure on the Obama administration to slap the terrorist label on the Haqqani network, a militant group responsible for plotting and launching attacks from Pakistan against US-led forces in Afghanistan.
By voice vote Tuesday, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives approved a bill that would require the secretary of state to report to Congress on whether the Haqqani network meets the criteria to be designated a foreign terrorist organization and if not, to explain why.
The report is due within 30 days of the president signing the measure.
The administration has sanctioned top individuals of the Haqqani network, but it is still reviewing whether to label the entire organization.
That delay has frustrated members of Congress.
Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, added an amendment to the bill stating that it was the sense of Congress that the Haqqani network meets the definition of a terrorist organization and they should be designated as one.
“The Obama administration has been considering formally designating the Haqqani network as a foreign terrorist organization under US law but has yet to act,” said Republican Rep Tim Griffin during a brief House debate.
Last week, the State Department defended its effort.
“We’ve been very aggressive about sanctioning their top individuals, and we’ve seen that as the most effective way to go about this. But the review is ongoing, and is actively ongoing,” department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters.
The measure now heads to the Senate, which approved a similar bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Richard Burr last December.
The Haqqani network, largely operating in eastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan, is affiliated with both the Taliban and al Qaeda.
US officials say it represents one of the biggest threats to Afghanistan stability because it is believed to use Pakistan as a rear base for attacks on American and coalition troops in Afghanistan.
The House vote comes just weeks after the United States and Pakistan ended a rancorous seven-month standoff with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton apologizing to Pakistan for the killing of 24 Pakistani troops last fall and in return securing the reopening of critical Nato supply lines into Afghanistan.
Throughout the uneasy relationship between the United States and Pakistan, American officials have pressed Islamabad to crack down on the extremist Haqqani network.
The bill states that “nothing in this act may be construed to infringe upon the sovereignty of Pakistan to combat militant or terrorist groups operating inside its boundaries.”
In May, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence committees wrote to Clinton asking her to act immediately in labeling the Haqqani network a terrorist group.
The four leaders said that based on meetings with US and Afghan officials in Afghanistan, “it was clear that the Haqqani network continues to launch sensational and indiscriminate attacks against US interests in Afghanistan and the group poses a continuing threat to innocent men, women and children in the region.”
The four noted that it had been six months since the State Department had undertaken its “final formal review” of the Haqqani network.
“The Haqqanis have continued to attack US troops and the US embassy in Kabul during that period,” the lawmakers said.
The letter also noted that the Obama administration may have been reluctant to act while Marc Grossman, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was trying to negotiate a reconciliation agreement with the Taliban that may have included or affected the Haqqani network.
Last year, the top US military officer accused Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency of backing extremists in planning and executing the assault on the US Embassy in Afghanistan and a truck bomb attack that wounded 77 American soldiers.
In his last congressional testimony before retirement, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, insisted that the Haqqani insurgent network “acts as a veritable arm” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
The House also passed a bill that would strengthen economic and security ties between the United States and Israel.
Te bipartisan legislation, which was approved by voice vote, would reaffirm the US commitment to Israel and American support for the Mideast ally’ right to self-defense.
The bill would extend current loan guarantees to Israel that expire later this year and authorizes the transfer of obsolete or surplus defense material from the United States to Israel. The bill reiterates US support for a negotiated two-state solution to resolve the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.