Trump’s New Afghan Policy By Tariq Khalil

INCONSISTENCY is hallmark of US policies more or less in all governments. Thus Trump’s sudden announcement to withdraw US forces from Syria (already slowed down) and Afghanistan is no surprise keeping in view the psychological impact of war on Americans. Seventeen years and burning of more than one point three trillion US dollars with no end of war coming to an end, US electorate is tired. However, there is a major segment both in political and military establishment, which for strategic reasons, wants US to stay, this caused Trump’s Secretary Mattis and his Deputy to quit. However within days US is denying that they are withdrawing.

Nevertheless thinning of US troops will remain on the agenda. Taliban major demand is withdrawal of foreign forces. Also it may be a follow up of Doha talks and part to influence talks with Taliban in Russia. But both Pentagon and State Department did not hide their differences.

While election in Afghanistan has been postponed, there are already denials by US. While Pakistan stand is vindicated that there is no other route to peace except negotiations, Indian media is in flames and churning out articles that the US has left them in lurch in their quest for peace. And that India has sunk billions in Afghanistan and has major stake. India will thus not allow the events to move on easily. Modi has to present to Indian public as well and also to distract from Kashmir where situation has deteriorated a lot. Use of force policy in Kashmir will have spill over and Kashmiris are looking towards Pakistan. India will thus likely to be more active in Afghanistan. I see thus no quick success in this process. Already more than fifty three percent Afghan territory is under Talban and, knowing their capacity to sustain war, they being sons of the soil will keep pressure on not only Afghan National Army but Americans who are largely confined to their bases and rely on Air Power. Therefore it seems there will be no peace in the offing in Afghanistan. Afghan National Army in spite of millions sunk by US in their training is yet a crowd glued with money. They lack cohesiveness and professionalism. Their mindset remains tribal.

At the same time Afghan Government is plagued with infightings among different factions. There is no doubt actual power lies with Abdullah, and Ashraf Ghani is at most a Palace King. Indian influence with Abdullah group is well known in particular and with Afghan President in general. Ex President’s faction is also playing their cards. Kabul thus is a hotbed of intrigues and conspiracies. Taliban know this division and will be in no hurry in the talks. It must be remembered Afghans are hard negotiators. By early March, weather will start changing and at the onset of Spring Taliban will increase their pressure. It is expected quantum of attacks and sabotage activity is likely to increase both against Afghan Army and US bases. It is the Americans who need some sort of agreement, with Taliban as early as possible for variety of reasons, and Trump must show to US public some achievements before elections.

Whereas within US battle with Democrats is showing its impact. There is already talk of divided government. There are budgetary issues , though both parties do not want to annoy Establishment. Pakistan thus gains further importance in this emerging scenario. Further, Sino Russian growing influence is bothering US financial pressures since released to some extent, and geo political leverage lowering, US is finding itself in growing need to engage Pakistan.

It is again a defining moment in the history of Pakistan, and Pakistan must not be obliging as was done in the past cheaply. Pakistan must spell out its priorities vis-a-vis its support in the present quagmire, US finds itself. Our priorities should be, US must support to reach to a democratic and amicable solution in Kashmir to alleviate the growing sufferings of Kashmiri people, stop India indulging in terrorism in Balochistan and indulging in sabotage activity through Afghanistan. Water blackmail by India and trade issues be raised. There is also a need to engage the people and US media to correct Pakistan negative image perception. As former Ambassador Manter analysed in his recent article both countries suffer from divergent view about each other. Yes, there are grievances on each side but there are brighter areas as well. While, other day President Trump indicated he may meet Pakistan leadership. This speaks of the fast changing geopolitical scenario. While balancing its relationship with US Pakistan must keep in mind sensitivity of time tested friend China and emerging warmness of Russia. They be kept informed and engaged.

The catch is there will be efforts both within Afghanistan and from India to derail the process and at best put spanners. Mischief on borders and terrorism incidents may occur. Abdullah, Ghani and Karazi factions would like status quo and US forces to stay. Already, Trump will drag till election in US and civilian contractors are ready to replace regulars. The role of civil contractors is going to increase and would require to be watched. Pakistan will be their backyard. The military war industrial establishment whose interest is well known will like US to stay. US-Indian collusion against CPEC is well known and multidimensional pressures will continue with different approaches. Already, a full-fledged war in media and diplomacy is in full swing against Pakistan. Iran and Saudi-Iranian conflict situation, Pakistan has to confront and charter its path adroitly.

India can create a conflict or a scene as abundant sleeping cells are available to enemies of Pakistan. These can be activated in each province. The attack on Chinese Consulate is a recent happening. Blasts in Waziristan, Quetta and Peshawar followed. Business as usual cannot be taken as granted. Within Pakistan, cornered in corruption cases, lobbies and mafia are too strong within the government. Creating a situation is no problem. Thus to benefit from geo-political scenario strong and well-articulated governance is key. Political maturity is fundamental for stable government. Political temperature must be lowered. Robust economy is prerequisite for a strong and independent foreign policy.

—The writer, a retired Brigadier, is decorated veteran of 65 & 71 wars and a defence analyst based in Lahore.


January 12, 2019

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