Private Warfare

Largely unnoticed in the spate of news from Washington was a report on legislation introduced by both Democrats and Republicans to force “the State Department to designate the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network as a terrorist organization”:


“You cannot negotiate with terrorists, and in my view that’s exactly what the Haqqani Network is,” bill sponsor Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “I have urged the State Department to designate Haqqani as an FTO for more than two years. Meanwhile, the organization continues to kill Americans in Afghanistan and launch brazen and indiscriminate attacks against innocent men, women and children in the region.”

The Haqqani network, some readers may be surprised to learn, is actually a family business. It is an Afghan/Pakistani family that has car dealerships, money exchanges, and construction companies as well as an international subsidiary engaging in terror. The famous Mullah Omar is the corporate face of Haqqani Inc., and an essential part of their regionally famous brand:

The Haqqani network’s financial interests are extensive, spreading out from Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Persian Gulf, south and east Asia, and perhaps reaching as far as Latin America. As early as the 1970s, Jalaluddin Haqqani began to cultivate a financial support system in the Persian Gulf, where he made connections with wealthy Gulf Arabs (as well as the Saudi intelligence service), thereby laying the groundwork for his close relationship with Arab sponsors, including Osama bin Laden. Those relationships are today maintained by other family members, like Nasiruddin, who has made multiple fundraising trips to the Persian Gulf.

The Haqqani network also runs legitimate businesses — many of them linked to the economic empire of the Pakistani military and security establishment — such as car dealerships within some of Pakistan’s largest cities, money exchanges, and construction companies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Haqqanis’ illegal operations include lucrative smuggling networks to strip timber, minerals, and other precious goods from Afghanistan and sell them in Pakistan and beyond. And the network profits from kidnapping, extortion, and protection rackets on both sides of the border.


As the Weekly Standard points out, the State Department has been loathe to put them on a terror listing because to do so would anger the Taliban and Pakistan, making it difficult for State to “negotiate” an agreement with these parties. Since State is currently trying to convince the Taliban and Pakistan not to kill Americans, it can’t very well offend its partners by calling them “terrorists”:

In August 2011, Ibrahim Haqqani was invited to a meeting with U.S. officials in the United Arab Emirates to discuss his family’s presumptive role in peace negotiations. The administration had its answer when the Haqqani network launched two operations against U.S. troops on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. One was a suicide car bombing of a U.S. base just south of Kabul that injured 77 U.S. soldiers. The other was that first attack on ISAF headquarters and the American embassy.

It is nonsensical that the State Department has yet to designate the Haqqanis as a foreign terrorist organization for fear that it might make a group waging terrorist operations against U.S. and Afghan troops less likely to sit for peace talks. The concern that listing the Haqqani network might upset the government of Pakistan is also absurd. As then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee, the September 2011 attacks were conducted with support from Pakistan’s intelligence service.


Besides, it is poor salesmanship. Since everyone knows that “violence never solved anything” and there may be no limit to what “smart diplomacy” can achieve, prudence requires letting State do its thing. Maybe they can get the leopard to change its spots. There’s always a first time for anything.

But there may also be an argument for recognizing that private warfare is back. One side of the War on Terror, if you can still call anything that, isn’t fought by uniformed individuals at all. It’s fought by people in civilian attire, or perhaps disguises. In other words, it is fought by non-state, irregular actors.

Here one comes to the matter of words. If one wants to anger a liberal, there is no better way than to mention the word “mercenary.” To a true man of the left, nothing can be more immoral or despicable than private warfare, especially if it goes by the name of “Blackwater” or a similar outfit. Ever since the Peace of Westphalia, private warfare has been frowned upon. Mention “Blackwater” and you will likely be told by any educated person that they are nothing but war criminals:

The stigma associated with private warfare translates, in legal terms, into a prohibition on mercenary activity and denying mercenaries the protection afforded to regular combatants (in particular, prisoner of war status). Noting the apparent similarities between mercenaries and private military contractors, some have sought to extend to the latter the restrictive regime applicable to the former.


But mention Haqqani to the State Department, however, and you will be informed they are your Partners for Peace. Why, even congressional action may fail to shake their belief in the reasonableness of the Haqqanis. While the Institute for International Law and Justice is all ready to sue what they call “private military and security companies (PMSCs)” — companies that provide military and/or security services — one wonders whether this will apply to Haqqani. It is relatively easy to imagine human rights lawyers filing suit against Blackwater. It is harder to imagine them serving a notice on the Haqqani family. For one thing, the effort may have deleterious effects upon their health, what with the difficulty of travel and all:

Victims of wrongdoing by PMSCs should have access to a remedy. If a victim does not have access to a remedy in the territory in which the wrong occurred, he or she should have access to a remedy in the state of incorporation of the PMSC or in the contracting state.

Immunity should not normally be granted to PMSCs. Where it is granted, immunity in one jurisdiction must never result in impunity.

States must exercise oversight of contracts for private military and/or security services. States should report on their contracts for private military and/or security services to an appropriate national oversight body, such as a parliament.

Non-state clients of PMSCs (such as intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, corporations) should be transparent in their dealings with PMSCs and develop best practices for such contracts.

A global code of conduct should be adopted.


Maybe the global code of conduct should be global. This radical idea has been proposed by Daphne Richemond-Barak, who writes that it may be time to rethink private warfare and to recognize the fact that the Westphalian and the not-so-Westphalian states are using private contractors for what amount to national ends:

When analyzing this antagonism in greater detail, one finds that the stigma stems from two main aspects of soldiering for money. The first aspect is that waging war as a business is considered immoral. The second aspect is that soldiering for money constitutes a form of intervention in other states’ affairs.

The argument that private soldiers do not fight for an appropriate cause cannot be extended to private military contractors. The latter actually do identify with the party they have been hired to support and, in many cases, are actually hired by states to take part in warfare on their behalf. In fact, most of them have previously served in their own national armies. …

As applied to modern forms of military outsourcing, the intervention rationale ignores that in a number of cases, private military contractors fight with the consent of their state of nationality. For example, American and British contractors working in Iraq — whose state of nationality is both a party to the conflict and the contractors’ indirect employer — certainly cannot be treated as foreign fighters who intervene in a conflict to which they are not party.


In general, Richemond-Barak argues that leveling and clarifying the legal playing field is an important part of international legal reform.

That seems like a laudable goal. At the very least there should be no preferential treatment given to deniable agents of a state, such as al-Qaeda or Haqqani, over what are derisorily called “mercenaries.” There has been a regrettable trend to ascribe to state-sponsored terror groups like Hezbollah and al-Qaeda — that is to say mercenaries —  all kinds of noble attributes, including but not limited to idealism, religious fervor, a thirst for justice, and spirituality, attributes one would never think of extending to contractors; to persons fighting for the same army and the same state they formerly served.

Maybe it’s a difference without a distinction. Or maybe the distinction has always consisted of something else. As stated earlier: it’s a matter of words.

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