The new American military commander in Afghanistan, General David H. Petraeus, is pushing to have top leaders of a feared insurgent group designated as terrorists, a move that could complicate an eventual Afghan political settlement with the Taliban and aggravate political tensions in the region.
General Petraeus introduced the idea of blacklisting the group, known as the Haqqani network, late last week in discussions with President Barack Obama’s senior advisers on Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Such a move could risk antagonising Pakistan, a critical partner in the war effort, but one that is closely tied to the Haqqani network.
It could also frustrate the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who is pressing to reconcile with all the insurgent groups as a way to end the nine-year-old war and consolidate his own grip on power.
The case of the Haqqani network, run by an old warlord family, underscores the thorny decisions that will have to be made over which Taliban-linked insurgents should win some sort of amnesty and play a role in the future of Afghanistan.
Karzai has already petitioned the United Nations to lift sanctions against dozens of members of the Taliban, and has won conditional support from the Obama administration, so long as these people sever ties to Al Qaeda, forswear violence and accept the Afghan Constitution.
“If they are willing to accept the red lines and come in from the cold, there has to be a place for them,” Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said to reporters at a briefing.
From its base in the frontier area near the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the network of Sirajuddin Haqqani is suspected of running much of the insurgency around Kabul, the Afghan capital, and across eastern Afghanistan, carrying out car bombings and kidnappings, including spectacular attacks on American military installations.
It is allied with Al Qaeda and with leaders of the Afghan Taliban branch under Mullah Muhammad Omar, now based near Quetta, Pakistan.
But the group’s real power may lie in its deep connections to Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, which analysts say sees the Haqqani network as a way to exercise its own leverage in Afghanistan.
Pakistani leaders have recently offered to broker talks between Karzai and the network, officials said, arguing that it could be a viable future partner.
American officials remain extremely skeptical that the Haqqani network’s senior leaders could ever be reconciled with the Afghan government, although they say perhaps some midlevel commanders and foot soldiers could.
Some officials in Washington and in the region expressed concerns that imposing sanctions on the entire network might drive away some fighters who might be persuaded to lay down their arms.