Trump’s Afghan legacy


Rizwan Ghani

BY praising Pakistan in India, Trump is off to a good start. Afghanistan can be a win-win situation for both Pakistan and America. Keeping in view the flux in South Asia, a long-term permanent friendly relationship will be helpful for both countries in the long run because nothing is permanent in international affairs. US engagement with Taliban, being the majority stakeholder in the country, show that Pakistan’s Afghan policy was right. Had Washington paid heed to Islamabad’s policy from the outset, it could have ended Afghan war long time ago. As part of 2020 presidential election campaign on the foreign policy front, Trump wants to withdraw from Afghanistan. He wants to show his voters that he succeeded in his election promise to withdraw US troops from “Forever wars”. Unlike Obama who made a deal with an individual behind our backs at the cost of Pakistan to win second term in office, at least Trump is openly seeking Pakistan’s help to bring peace in Afghanistan. Islamabad can do that at state level on the basis of equality to secure interests of Pakistan on a long-term basis starting with permanent removal of India from Afghanistan.
Regarding Afghanistan, Trump’s expectations that Modi will facilitate US withdrawal from Afghanistan and peace in the region are misplaced. Machiavellian policy of deception is at play. Modi has usurped Kashmir with tacit international backing on the model of Palestine in blatant violation of UN Resolutions. Now India will thwart any effort, even headed by America, to bring peace in Afghanistan because Delhi believes that it will strengthen Pakistan. Historically speaking, India uses its alliances to protect its national interests. US-India military alliance, part of 4-nation military alliance, is at best “Outsourcing” of India’s defence to America. It is giving India free American security umbrella while it continues to pursue its policies in the region including buying of military equipment from Russia and having $85bn bilateral trade with China. Trump withdrew US support for NATO because its European allies were paying for their defence with American taxpayers’ money without sharing the cost. America paid 70% of total NATO expenses. Will Indo-Pacific strategy succeed? It is not going to as far as China’s media is concerned. It has been opined that Delhi is maintaining strategic balance with all major players in the region including the US, China and Russia (India to continue its balancing act: China Daily Editorial 24 Feb 2020). Obama’s China-centric Asia Pacific policy failed to gain traction during his eight years in office because it is impractical in the era of BRI based regional cooperation and Trump’s rival Blue Dot Network Plan. There is more support for trade, Asia cooperation and membership of SCO due to large number of its members than 4-nation anti-Asia military alliance. There are question marks on strength of US-India trade deal as both countries have failed yet again to find common grounds while American investment in China has crossed $1.5tn in 2019. The protests against Citizenship Law in Delhi, country’s capital, on the day of arrival of Trump are matter of serious concern for the international investors because peace and stability is an essential prerequisite for attracting foreign investors in any country.
In reality, major world economies like America and India can never become permanent allies in South Asia. The relationship will be at best transactional. Due to its size, economy and location, Delhi will always force Washington to “Do more” and get away with state of the art military equipment and dual use civil technology for the country and yet refuse to remove trade barriers like reducing import duty on US goods to micromanage trade (agreements) to its advantage including renegotiation of trade deals with America just as Trump did with Canada, Mexico (USMCA). Furthermore, any American investment in India will be at the cost of outsourcing American jobs. It will go against Trump’s America First Policy which gives incentives to overseas US manufacturers to bring allied jobs back to the US. This could come to haunt Republicans in 2024 presidential election. Similarly, Modi’s flagship Made-in- India program has also failed to improve manufacturing due to local competition in the region. Opening of local businesses to foreign ownership will further damage BJP in all elections. That is one reason why Indian Opposition was not very excited about Trump’s visit. No major political party in India would like to limit its options with long-term deals with any country including America as they could become counterproductive in years to come due to the flux in the region including strategic developments in security, economy and trade. Any wise government in India can never rule out USMCA, NATO or SCO like deals to improve its economy, security and employment. Trump was cognizant of all such challenges in US-Indo policy so he praised Pakistan in India to win its support for Afghanistan. It is hoped that Trump will work hard at state level to win his Afghan legacy by bringing immediately permanent end to India’s presence in Afghanistan, to withdraw US troops and help Afghanistan after consultation with Islamabad so that both countries can start a new relationship at the state level otherwise his words will prove to be hollow. America should lead the world to help end siege of Kashmir and let its people decide their fate under the UN Resolutions until then the UN, the EU and the OECD should put sanctions on India and boycott its products.
—The writer is senior political analyst based in Islamabad.