President Donald Trump appears in a hurry for an Afghan endgame, and is trying everything he has in his repertoire, one after the other. Just days ago, he despatched a drone to Afghanistan’s Helmand province that killed a senior Taliban commander and his several associates among a total of 32 — in an apparent 0reminder of the US capability to target with precision. A couple of days before that, the US president had made a vain attempt to browbeat Pakistan too, during an interview with Fox News. In words that flout the norms of diplomacy, and decency, he had blurted at Pakistan for ‘not doing a damn thing’ for the US against ‘the $1.3 billion provided every year’, and alleging that Pakistanis were aware of Osama bin Laden’s presence on their soil. But Prime Minister Imran Khan’s riposted at once, detailing Pakistan’s unmatched and uncountable sacrifices in the US-led war on terror, and making it pretty loud and clear that the US failure on Afghanistan cannot be pinned on Pakistan.
Now in a clear U-turn of strategy on dealing with Pakistan, the US president has adopted a formal, diplomatic way of approaching its frontline partner in the terror war, instead of making use of the crude oratory that he is best at. President Trump has written to Prime Minister Khan, seeking Pakistan’s ‘assistance and facilitation in achieving a negotiated settlement of the Afghan war’ alongside acknowledging ‘the cost of war Pakistan and the US suffered’. Simultaneously, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, has set out on an 18-day emissary journey to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Belgium, the UAE and Qatar. Khalilzad, who says that he sees a moment of opportunity, will meet Afghan government officials and other ‘interested parties’ to support and facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan. These back-to-back efforts show the urgency in the Trump administration to get out of the Afghan quagmire. It’s about time the US hammered out a practical mode of engagement with Pakistan, instead of the one satisfying its whims and wishes, over the long-drawn-out issue of Afghan settlement.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 4th, 2018.