Hillary Clinton pressed on negotiating with Islamic militants in Afghanistan

A House panel pressed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Thursday about the wisdom of negotiating with anti-American groups in Afghanistan and warned about the spread of Shariah Law.

House Foreign Affairs Committee members questioned whether members of the Haqqani Network will negotiate in good faith with U.S. and Afghanistan officials. Those questions came as Clinton described Washington’s current approach in Afghanistan as “fight-talk-build.”

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Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) raised concern about whether efforts to strike a peace deal in Afghanistan as U.S. troops begin leaving must include Taliban leader Mullah Omar and the Quetta Shura organization.

Clinton replied that if negotiations are to prove successful, they “have to” include Omar and the Quetta Shura that he leads.

“The Afghan Taliban leadership council … is often referred to as the Quetta Shura, as it is based in the Pakistani city of the same name,” according to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “The Quetta Shura provides direction to the four regional military shuras and the 10 committees.”

Other members expressed concerns about attempts by Washington and Kabul to negotiate with the Haqqani Network, a Taliban-allied group that operates out of Pakistan and has carried out attacks on American and Afghan targets.

Former Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen in late September set off global ripples when he told a Senate panel the Haqqani Network is a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s intelligence agency.

“You don’t make peace with your friends,” Clinton said, telling the panel one rarely holds negotiations with “people you already agree with.”

U.S. and Afghanistan officials involved in attempts to fashion a peace pact there that can lead to a stable government “are all balancing … two realities” — the Haqqanis receive some support from Islamabad and Pakistan is a key, if unsteady, ally in the Afghan conflict.

“Everyone agrees,” Clinton said, that the Haqqani group “has safe havens in Pakistan.”

She called the U.S.-Pakistan relationship “critical” and “consequential.”

Just back from a swing through the region, Clinton said she and other senior U.S. officials had “frank” talks with Pakistani officials about the need for them to clamp down on the Haqqanis.

Islamabad cannot try to “distinguish between good terrorists and bad terrorists,” Clinton said.

Panel Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) sought clarity on whether the Obama administration’s strategy is to “fight or talk to” the Haqqanis.

“It’s both,” the secretary of state said.

A portion of the administration’s “fight-talk-build” approach in Afghanistan is to “test whether there is evidence” that anti-U.S. groups will negotiate in good faith, Clinton said.

The “fight” portion of the strategy includes targeting Haqqani operatives on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, Clinton told the lawmakers. The “talk” portion stems from Afghanistan leaders’ belief that reconciling with the Taliban and similar groups “can work,” she said. The “building” portion is based on a “clear-eyed lesson” from history that “lasting stability” is linked to “long-term economic stability,” Clinton said.

Meanwhile, Republicans raised concerns that ousters caused by the Arab Spring uprisings and strict Muslim groups at the negotiating table in Afghanistan could mean the beginning of new theocracies.

Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) told Clinton that several new governments in that region might adopt the strict interpretation of Islamic Law. He expressed concerns that “all of” North Africa might soon be governed by regimes that enforce Shariah Law.

The Council on Foreign Relations notes there is a growing “movement to allow sharia to govern personal status law, a set of regulations that pertain to marriage, divorce, inheritance, and custody,” according to a fact sheet on its website. “Some interpretations are used to justify cruel punishments such as amputation and stoning as well as unequal treatment of women in inheritance, dress, and independence. The debate is growing as to whether sharia can coexist with secularism, democracy, or even modernity.”

Chabot said if a regime takes hold of the Afghanistan government that implements Shariah Law, it could be “devastating,” especially for women there.

Clinton said since there are multiple examples of how nations implement Shariah, she did not want to “prejudge” what any future Afghanistan government might do.

She urged Chabot and other members to do some homework by studying “all applications” of Shariah Law.

American conservative pundits and lawmakers have sounded off against Shariah in recent years. About a dozen U.S. states have made moves toward banning it.

Voters in Oklahoma last year overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure banning Shariah law from being considered by state courts, according to the ThinkProgress.org. A federal judge earlier this year, however, blocked that law.

New legislation was introduced in the Oklahoma legislature “that addresses the legal issues holding up [the ballot measure] by banning the use of all foreign law in Oklahoma courts,” according to ThinkProgress.org.