The Corner

The State Department’s Belated Designation of the Pakistani Taliban as a Terrorist Group

Yesterday, the State Department designated the Pakistani Taliban, or the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). This move has been a long time coming, as the TTP began operating more than two and a half years ago. Its formation in December 2007 meant that, in a shift, Pakistani militant groups no longer targeted Indian or Western interests alone; the TTP aimed to bring down the Pakistani state as well as traditional militant foes.

Pakistan has not always been helpful to the U.S.: Its intelligence service still supports Afghan Taliban groups such as the North Waziristan-based Haqqani network and other terrorist groups, such as Lashkar-e Taiba. Islamabad has, however, waged an unprecedented campaign against the TTP, which reduced the operating space for terrorist elements based in northwest Pakistan, and provided other forms of assistance to the U.S.

The TTP’s activities threaten the rear guard of the American coalition in Afghanistan and thus should have qualified the group for an FTO listing a long time ago. The advance of TTP elements to within 60 miles of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad in April 2009 added to the stack of evidence. The TTP’s involvement in the December 2009 bombing of the CIA facility in Khost, Afghanistan, alone would have been sufficient for an immediate FTO listing. And the direct attack by the TTP upon the U.S. consulate in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar in April 2010 (which I discussed on the Corner here) should have quenched any thirst for further data.

Yet it took an attack by the TTP on the American homeland to trigger the designation of the TTP as an FTO. On May 1, Faisal Shahzad attempted to blow up a vehicle in Times Square; the TTP, whom he had trained with in Pakistan, took credit for the attack and played an operational role in its development. Even after such ties emerged, it took four months for the State Department to list the TTP as an FTO, despite direct urging from Senators Schumer, Hagan, Gillibrand, Menendez, and Lautenberg shortly after the Times Square attack. As noted by Andy McCarthy in the Corner, the State Department failed to include the TTP in its annual Country Reports on Terror, published in early August, although it did include the Harakat ul Jihad Islami (HuJI), a group that poses a threat to U.S. interests through its sustained involvement in attacks in India and Pakistan and links with al-Qaeda efforts in Afghanistan.

This action is laudable. The TTP is now an officially designated terrorist organization, a status that will make it easier to prosecute individuals involved with the organization. The State Department also designated TTP leaders Hakimullah Mehsud and Wali ur Rehman as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists” under Executive Order 13224 and offered a reward for information leading to their capture. Such action and Department of Justice charges issued yesterday against Hakimullah Mehsud will make it more difficult for Mehsud, Rehman, or their group to operate.

This action could have occurred months if not more than a year ago. As Chris Harnisch and I argued in NRO in May, any group that is part of the network of violent Islamists groups affiliated with or part of al Qaeda should be considered detrimental to U.S. interests and thus placed on the State Department FTO list.

State Department and administration rhetoric may have begun to evolve in this direction. For example, yesterday’s release noted that, “TTP and al-Qa’ida have a symbiotic relationship; TTP draws ideological guidance from al-Qa’ida, while al-Qa’ida relies on TTP for safe haven in the Pashtun areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border.” It even went so far as to call the group a “force multiplier” for al-Qaeda. The announcement of the HuJI’s FTO designation also mentioned that group’s extensive links with al-Qaeda as justification for its placement on the FTO list.

In the future, the State Department should not be caught flat-footed in its response to attacks from terrorist groups that have previously not directly targeted the United States. The department should state clearly that any group that is part of the network led by al-Qaeda is an enemy of the U.S. and thus an FTO. Such a designation would increase the cost of affiliating with al-Qaeda for groups and individuals abroad and would illuminate the enemy for the American public. Clarification of the enemy would serve as a building block for a (currently nonexistent) comprehensive strategy to roll back the al-Qaeda network writ large.

Charlie Szrom is senior analyst and program manager for AEI’s Critical Threats Project.

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