SOUTH Asia is not a region which can be ignored by the world powers. It has assumed much importance in international politics today. It sometimes is described as a volatile and dangerous place because of uneasy relationship between nuclear India and Pakistan, the presence of Taliban and other extremist groups in Afghanistan, and America’s longest war ever in Afghanistan after 9/11. Though US is withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, about 10,000 troops are still present in the country. The US is also by far the largest spender on the Afghan armed forces and government in Afghanistan.
It has spent about $115 billion in aid for Afghanistan in addition to other military costs. In its current form it is difficult to imagine Afghanistan surviving without US financial support. Afghanistan, however, played almost no part in the US election campaign this year and is unlikely to be high on the new administration’s agenda. The Trump administration believes in pulling forces out of Afghanistan while some security analysts believe in keeping a military presence in Afghanistan by arguing that US is Afghanistan’s main backer in terms of funding and foreign troops and also has a substantial continuing influence on government policy.
The Trump administration, however, sees a lot of the US spending in Afghanistan as futile. During his election campaign, Trump said that he would “only and probably” keep the troops in Afghanistan because it is “right next to Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons.” In an interview with Fox News during his election campaign, he said “I think you have to stay and do the best you can. Not that it’s ever going to be great, but I don’t think we have much of a choice.” Trump’s “America First” doctrine and his pledge to “Make American Great Again,” on the other hand, has left security analysts wondering if his administration will be willing to continue spending billions of dollars funding Afghanistan, particularly given his declaration that US is getting out of the nation-building business. Trump has already objected to US taxpayers’ money being squandered in faraway lands including Afghanistan. Presenting his foreign policy goals during his election campaign, President Trump has been successfully advocating his isolationist rhetoric. His strong element of isolationism is deeply relevant to South Asia and especially to Afghanistan. If it happens, Afghanistan might lose both military support and financial transfers from US and its allies. On the contrary, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has warmly congratulated President Trump on his victory by saying that the US government is an essential and important strategic partner and that Afghanistan hopes for close cooperation with new US president.
It is essential to know that fifteen years on, Afghanistan still struggles with a lagging security, economic growth and a critical unemployment rate. Related to the security situation in Afghanistan is the growing presence of the so-called Islamic State (IS) in the country, with a series of recent attacks being claimed by the militant group.
In coming years, Afghanistan has to brace itself for a rough ride. Given that Afghanistan is more dependent on US aid than almost any other country, Trump’s Afghan policy will have a large influence on the country’s fate. The withdrawal of US troops is important, but if the current Afghan government makes the withdrawal viable. The US needs to address the fact the war cannot be won by a divided and self-paralysed Afghan central government, which the World Bank and Transparency International (2016) rank as one of the least effective, and most corrupt in the world. Afghanistan has been a constant fixture in US foreign policy since 2001, and should remain an issue for years to come for peace and development not only in Afghanistan but the whole South Asian region.
The Trump administration needs to be clear that it has to support the Afghan government in its continuing war against the Taliban, ISIS, and other violent Islamist extremists. Afghanistan is a deeply fragile and conflict affected state. It has been in almost constant conflict for over 35 years since the Soviet invasion of 1979. The troops withdrawal from Afghanistan without any affective civil and military strategy and future planning would create a nightmare scenario in Afghanistan. The administration in the US also needs to remember that peace and stability in Afghanistan is peace in the neighbouring countries.
—The writer is a Researcher at Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a think tank based in Islamabad.