There was no joint statement after the US National Security adviser Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster’s meetings with Pakistani leadership in Islamabad on Monday, though what he said through his embassy is not as disingenuous as the one attributed to him by an Afghan television channel.
According to ToloNews, McMaster was of the view that it would be in Pakistan’s best interest to go after the Afghan insurgent groups “less selectively,” but “through diplomacy, not through the use of proxies.”
In Pakistan, he contended himself with calling on Pakistan to confront “terrorism in all its forms.” As if Islamabad’s historic fiat to bring the Afghan Taliban and the Kabul government on the same table under the Murree Process was not diplomacy and Washington’s staying away from the 12-nation meeting on Afghanistan in Moscow is diplomacy.
Apparently, the Trump administration is yet to evolve its diplomatic strategy about the Afghan imbroglio, and would translate the Obama’s much-contested call on Pakistan to “do more” into “less selectivity.” As regards the allegation of Pakistan’s using proxies that was promptly rejected by none other but the chief of Pakistan army, General Bajwa, himself.
That said, one does detect a shift of strategic dimensions in how the Trump administration looks at the Afghanistan issue as against its predecessors’ worldview. While the latter looked at Afghanistan situation through the Indian prism, the former tends to see it through the Moscow lens. As to how these remarks are reflected from the outcome of Gen McMaster’s “regional consultations” – from Islamabad he left for New Delhi – it would be na�ve to predict. But we do concur with the analysis viewpoint of some geo-strategists that the United States faces total mess in Afghanistan, and if Daesh and Taliban continue to gain strength, it could tempt Russia to stage a Syrian-style intervention, this time on the pretext of “protecting its backyard”.
It is time the Trump administration should shed the “do more” syndrome it has inherited – though that won’t be easy, given the widely publicized worldview of a part of the diplomatic squad tasked to ‘handle’ South Asia. It may be news to those people that the day they were here the Pakistani Army announced the capture of one of Jamaatul Ahrar’s top leaders, Ehsanullah Ehsan, who was once the spokesman of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. He was one of the founding figures of JuA, which was formed as an affiliate of the Daesh in Pakistan after splitting the TTP, and had led some of the most brutal attacks.
The world at large may insist that President Trump is unpredictable, but if his reported take on South Asia is any guide that may not be the case. He is said to have expressed himself as interested to work to help improve the Pakistan-India bilateralism, essentially by acting as a kind of mediator on the Kashmir problem. According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s House following Gen McMaster’s meeting with Nawaz Sharif, McMaster “assured the Prime Minister that the new administration was committed to strengthening bilateral relations and working with Pakistan to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan and in the wider South Asian region.”
On relations with India, the prime minister reiterated his “firm conviction on sustained dialogue and meaningful engagement on all issues between Pakistan and India including Kashmir.” Of course New Delhi is allergic to the words “third-party mediation.” But it may have some sobering effect on it by getting to know that one quite visible outcome of President Xi’s meeting with his American counterpart was a fairly relaxed relationship between Washington and Beijing.
That improvement is amply reflected from the measures China adopted against North Korea as tensions mounted in that region following Pyongyang’s decision to test the launch of nuclear-capable ICBMs and steaming into the region of aircraft-carrier Carl Vinson. The US embassy conceded that the visiting US delegation called its “regional meetings” as “productive,” and also expressed appreciation of Pakistan’s democratic and economic development. Hopefully, having firsthand assessment of the situation in Afghanistan and rest of South Asia Gen McMaster’s visit would help the Trump administration forge a pragmatic approach to situation in Afghanistan and what can be expected from the roles its neighbours – than only to focus on military demand for more troops.
And as that is undertaken it would be worthwhile to accept that not the war but Afghan national reconciliation is only way to peace and stability in war-weary Afghanistan.