Cobbling new Afghan policy: Trump’s dilemmas

Iqbal Khan
LIKE other areas of foreign policy, thought process of President Trump’s administration about Afghanistan and South Asia is erratic and chaotic. Unless there is a bold course correction with regard to American end objectives in Afghanistan, there is no likelihood of Afghanistan getting any better. So far discernable American military objective is to keep 10-15000 combat ready personnel in Afghanistan who should appear helping Afghan government overcome country wide insurgency with an actual be’ prepared mission’ to be ready to handle contingencies in South Asia and may be Central Asia as well. To nurture supportive environment for a peaceful Afghanistan is not an American military’s priority, at least for the time being. The US may feel contended with nominal control on urban centres while letting rural centres rot in a state of lawlessness. And a weak Afghan government and unmanaged Afghan borders are important tools in achieving this objective.
The silver lining is that President Trump has not reconciled with the US military’s objectives in Afghanistan, he is interested in winning the Afghan war. He is quite skeptic of haunting US involvement in foreign wars and is not keen in open ended military deployments with vague objectives. Reuters has reported that President told his aids: “We aren’t winning.” He is pushing the Pentagon and State Department to come out with a clear-cut war ending strategy. Trump’s factual understanding about the war in Afghanistan is resulting in his reluctance to take the recommended strategy on its face value. “We aren’t winning,” he vehemently complained that the military was allowing the US to lose the war. He is even considering to fire the US military commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen Nicholson for not winning the war.
And from “business point of view” Trump wants Afghans to share the cost of war by giving equitable share to the US in its mineral wealth estimated to be around US$ one trillion. Worst effected country shall be Pakistan, because over the years, Afghanistan has allowed India to use its territory to set up requisite wherewithal to conduct terrorist activities up to in-depth urban centres of Pakistan. India is also dying to get a military role in Afghanistan and for this purpose it has offered its services to the US and Afghanistan. Reportedly, Afghanistan is under pressure for sending a formal invitation to India for stationing about two division combatant troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan is not worried about Indian troops’ presence in Afghanistan, and strategic calculations point towards likelihood that Afghan insurgent would be provoked into making a mince of Indian soldiers. However, such a situation would perpetuate militancy and instability in Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours.
Under these circumstances, anti-Pakistan narrative is getting adhesion in all three power centres of the American government: Pentagon; Capitol Hill; and State Department. A deliberate effort is on to portray Pakistan as main hindrance towards achievement of American objectives in Afghanistan. Senator John McCain has proposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act 2018, suggesting a ‘carrot and stick’ policy to persuade Pakistan to break its alleged nexus with Afghan Taliban, especially the Haqqani network. Interestingly this Senator has visited North Waziristan twice, during recent months, and had praised Pakistan’s effort towards dislodging militancy in that area. While at the same time the Senator while in Kabul had issue blistering anti Pakistan statements.
John McCain’s amendment calls for “pursuing an integrated civil-military strategy by imposing graduated diplomatic, military and economic costs on Pakistan as long as it continues to provide support and sanctuary to terrorist and insurgent groups, including the Taliban and the Haqqani network.” The spirit of McCain’s suggestions is already operational. Disbursement of CSF component of US$ 50 million has already been withheld because the Defence Secretary has refused to certify that Pakistan is doing enough to decimate Haqqani Network.
Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua while talking to a US delegation led by Ambassador Alice G. Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs on August 03 said that Pakistan supports all initiatives aimed at promoting sustainable peace and security in the region. She emphasized that a strong partnership with the United States was critical in achieving these shared objectives. The visiting delegation was informed about the overall gains that Pakistan has been able to make in the last few years’ in line with the priorities set by the government, especially creating an enabling security environment through vigorous counter terrorism operations.
Assistant Secretary of State acknowledged Pakistan’s sacrifices in the fight against terrorism. She agreed on the importance of a strong partnership between the US and Pakistan and gave American perspective on how to move forward this relationship in the coming years. According to her “objective of bilateral cooperation was to seek a stable, secure and prosperous Pakistan.” She stressed that “Pakistan’s soil must not be used to plan or conduct terrorist attacks against its neighbours”. Pakistan vehemently denies this assertion. The US delegation has undertaken a tour to regional countries, including Afghanistan and India, to get the firsthand account of the situation on the ground before the White House announces its policy for South Asia, including Afghanistan.
Pakistan hopes that the ongoing US review would result in a comprehensive political strategy to promote reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan and the region. Speaking at a weekly news briefing, FO spokesperson said “We consider it an important visit, which provides us an opportunity to discuss bilateral relations and share our perspectives on Afghanistan and the broader issues related to the region.” He added that Pakistan was taking all necessary measures to preempt the threat emanating from the presence of Da’ish in Afghanistan including border control and management. He pointed out that there were swathes of ungoverned territories in Afghanistan, and Da’ish and other terrorist outfits were gaining grounds there.
Apportioning blame on Pakistan for the US failure in Afghanistan is an over simplification. President Trump is right that the US and its allies have failed to win the battle against the Taliban. Today, insurgents control more than half of Afghanistan and are expanding their writ. Hopefully he would prevail to extract a peace oriented strategy from his Ex-Generals’ dominated team.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.
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