Trump’s Afghan policy déjà vu ?

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Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi
GIVEN the context of the former Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s critical approach vis-à-vis US policy in Afghanistan, and in the given backdrop of US war strategy, there appears a logical appeal/connotation that Trump’s approach of sending more 3,800 military troops to Afghanistan is by no means a rational step towards peacemaking process in the region. Should not Washington’s warmongering- policymakers pay heed to a collective wisdom approach: the foundational problem of the ongoing conflict is political and diplomatic and will not be solved militarily? Yet the redemption from the ongoing the Afghan crisis lies in an instrumentally backed non- power incrementalist approach.
In theory, US strategy in Afghanistan has been to train an Afghan army that can fight Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and now the Islamic State, and then largely to withdraw. But a reality check shows that US has been unable to fulfil this objective. Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai recently questioned how, under the watch of US intelligence and military – the militant Islamic State (IS) group emerged in Afghanistan over past few years. “The US came to Afghanistan to bring peace and stability and defeat extremism, [yet] we have more of it today. Why? That is what we should be discussing,” Karzai said. “Clearly bombings, killings, prisons and harassment of people [in Afghanistan] have not worked.”
The 16 years US/NATO-led military intervention in Afghanistan is not yet without consequences on the ground. The transatlantic community which might have rejoiced in advancing an active contribution of a panoply of actors with a wide range of instruments, is still unable to achieve unity of effort. The perceived capability gaps are not being filled, thereof lacking efficiency and efficacy of existing means—resulting in a demand for “more”. “It’s not just a little different, it’s very different,” says Michael Crane, a retired Major General who commanded Australian forces in the ME including Afghanistan in 2007 and again in 2013. “Afghanistan is a very difficult problem. You have remote mountain areas, border problems, corruption, no real sense of nation. And the Taliban is a very determined enemy.”
The Taliban told US President Donald Trump in an open letter that the military situation in Afghanistan was “far worse than you realize”, and sending in more troops would be self-destructive. “Previous experiences have shown that sending more troops to Afghanistan will not result in anything other than further destruction of American military and economical might,” the Taliban said in the lengthy letter.
Trump’s divergent Afghan policy seeks a non-pragmatic departure from Obama’s quasi-exit strategy in Afghanistan. There is much logic in the argument that President Trump’s approach to repeat the policies of past two administrations—by trying to apply yet more combat power to a fundamentally political and diplomatic problem—will dither the scope of peace. Even if the NATO forces succeed to destroy the terrorist networks, Al-Qaeda, IS and any other terrorist groups that arise in the region, the Afghan government is not headed toward effective governance. Consequently, this exchange lays the groundwork for the US military to, literally, be made Armed Forces of the Afghan state forever.
According to the Brookings policy brief on Afghanistan: Successive US Administrations have struggled to articulate the basis for evolving US policy objectives in Afghanistan, and for sustaining a US military presence there. The administration should seek to distinguish its strategy from those pursued by the previous two Administrations and remind the American public that an ongoing partnership with the Afghan government has served US security interests by providing a hub for critical counter-terrorism-related intelligence collection and special operations.
In view of some critics, US National Security Advisor Gen (Retd) McMaster, the author of ‘In Dereliction of Duty’ and a principal architect of the extension of retreading an Afghan policy designed to simply buy time and avoid defeat can hardly upset the Afghan apple cart in US’ favour simply because he is not rightly reminded of the Vietnam War déjà vu. This deliberate indifference shown by the US-Afghan policy-makers to the lessons of history is a dangerous recourse. Trump’s power-oriented incrementalism in Afghanistan is an antithesis to peace in the region.
Probably incrementalism may temporarily assist holding the line against a resurgent Taliban, but it is absolutely unlikely to change the course of the longest war in US history and may be a recipe for endless war without immediate victory. James Sisco, a retired Navy intelligence officer who served as a US military liaison and adviser to then-Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was another champion of the short-lived tribal engagement strategy and is also deeply skeptical that adding US troops again will make a difference. “Four or five years from now, you’ll see no change, and we will still be talking about it,” Sisco said.
Today, Afghanistan needs strategic implementation of US’ exit strategy, negating a bigger strategic game, regulated and graduated by such instrumentalist policies that are made through a pluralistic process of partisan mutual adjustment in which a multiplicity of participants focus on proposals thereby incrementally changing the current status quo via trilateral policy dimension in Afghanistan: 1) all, or at least most, social interests must be represented; 2) political resources must be balanced sufficiently among groups that no one dominates; and 3) political stakeholders must be moderate and pragmatic, permitting a convergence to an ever-evolving political gamut. Therefore, the resumption of quadrilateral peace dialogue in Muscat is a positive development.
— The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-analyst based in Karachi, is a member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies.
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