M Ashraf Azeem
THE rant was not new, the style and emphasis was. On Aug 21, at the Fort Mayer, near the Arlington Cemetery in Virginia, Trump made his first address to the nation at the military base and in the presence of high echelons of army and his cabinet. It was the president and commander-in-chief in one. The policy pronouncement on Afghanistan as well as South Asia, was deliberated at length in meetings with army commanders and civilian leadership, spread over days and weeks. So the script was well-thought-out and predetermined.
Trump did not use any impromptu remarks or asides and delivered the speech as prepared and rehearsed. There was an implied admission in the address, that American policies were flawed and it was not winning the war in Afghanistan. Trump had committed during his election campaign, last year, that America would not waste its’ money and time on such wars. As pointed out by him, America had spent something like six trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan and that America, running a colossal deficit of twenty trillion dollars, could have been built twice over with this money. He admitted that he had never gone against his instincts, but this time, sitting behind the desk at the Oval Office, he had to give up his instinctive dictates on Afghanistan. So what was the strategy that was unfolded? Was it a reversal of what had been said and done before or was it more of the same, albeit Trumps’ marketing innuendo? In fact it was both.
America was withdrawing from Afghanistan as its’ other NATO allies had been doing in the past. From a peak troop level of hundred thousand men, it had drawn down to current eight thousand. The war did not go in US favour, neither combined NATO might created any significant dent in the ‘nimble and cagey’ Taliban militants. As Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, suggested later that if America did not get any victory, neither would Taliban get one. But the same shabby looking, depraved and short on arms and ammunition Taliban were occupying large swathes of Afghanistan. Now, the strategy has been changed again. There is a new authorisation of beefing up the troops. The numbers have been left for the commanders to decide. The only objective outlined is to kill and grab victory at all costs.
The Taliban have been warned, in essence, that America is there for a long haul and that the Taliban can’t win by staying in the wait game. Analysing further, there are many elements of the new strategy. The first, as already spelt out, is that America is not leaving. Second, as outlined in his speech, the cost of the war has partly to be met by Afghanistan itself by exploring the vast mineral wealth. Now, the Afghan government is not equipped with the technology or the wherewithal to carryout this complex explorative planning and operation. That gives US and its’ allies a leverage to dig in their feet deep in Afghanistan which otherwise would be steadily going under the influence of China and possibly Russia. US does not want to see the growing influence of these countries in the region. It could also mean losing Central Asia for good and allowing China and Russia a foot into the Middle East.
The third element is that of India which is involved in multibillion dollar trade with the US and its’ allies. America needs India to flex its’ muscle in Afghanistan and South Asia as China is rapidly outflanking Indo-US influence in the region by following the economic corridor stratagem. US wants to encourage India to come face to face with China in a show down on the territorial disputes. This would deflect China from its’ outreach policy and developmental efforts in many regions of the world and also take its’ umbrella off North Korea which is bothering America too much by its’ intercontinental ballistic missiles test firings.
The fourth element is the so-called safe-havens in Pakistan of the terrorist outfits that supposedly are destabilising Afghanistan by propping up Taliban on the other side of the border. If America starts bombing heavily inside Afghanistan as well as the adjoining tribal areas of Pakistan, it will cause a huge influx of Afghan civilians into Pakistan, making it wilt under the economic pressures once again. Pakistan would; in turn, look for international aid and the UN support which won’t be forth coming due to the America winking its’ eyes in disapproval.
The new refugee camps inside Pakistan could be targeted by the US aerial bombing on pretext of them sheltering terrorists. India will be licenced to use its’ force alongside the US in this atrocious war on Pakistan. That is why Trump chose it to orchestrate the “safe havens” mantra publicly to elicit and win over the international public support and sympathies. This is also a good opportunity for the internally beleaguered president to foist its legitimacy by launching external forays. Sabre-rattling to North Korea is the same ploy which he wants to use in South Asia, sooner than later. A nuclear catastrophe in both of the regions, is what that can be pre-petted from Trumps’ unforeseen, potentially cataclysmic actions on the world scene.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Toronto.
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M Ashraf Azeem