By committing around 4,000 more troops in Afghanistan, instead of reducing the existing number or seeking an ultimate withdrawal from Afghanistan to end the United States’ longest war, President Donald Trump rekindled the flames there. He has also proved thereby that he can renege on his pledges at whatever time or in whatever way he pleases. He sought to explain the change in his strategy by stating, implausibly, that “my original instinct was to pull out” all American troops but he was persuaded otherwise by his military advisers after a lengthy review of the war. The reason he reversed his previous calls for withdrawal now was that “the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable….A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill.” And that was his very formal address to the nation as commander-in-chief. His speech has added to the confusion that surrounds the US policy in Afghanistan. While raising the number of troops in a war that has caused the US thousands of casualties and trillions of dollars, the US president was vague on other “instruments of American power” that Washington would deploy to lead Afghanistan towards peace, such as economic development or a new engagement with Pakistan and India. Predictably, the Afghan government has welcomed the decision. But the Taliban have rejected it by warning that the surge in troops and constant presence of “invaders” in their country would ultimately make Afghanistan “a graveyard for the American empire”.
It is intriguing that Trump’s definition of “America’s win in Afghanistan” does not include defeating the Taliban themselves. “American troops would fight to win,” he declared, “by attacking enemies, crushing Al-Qaeda, preventing terror attacks against Americans and obliterating the Islamic State.” Like his predecessor, Barack Obama, Trump concedes that any solution that brings peace to Afghanistan should involve the Taliban’s participation. This, once again, is recognition of the Afghan Taliban, who have been fighting against foreign troops to free their homeland in accordance with the universal norms endorsed by the United Nations. It also vindicates Pakistan’s policy underscoring the need for an Afghan-led, and Afghan-owned, solution to the crisis.
Not unexpectedly, he criticised Islamabad for Pakistan’s alleged harbouring of militants in safe havens, and called on India to play a greater role in Afghanistan. Little does he appreciate the fact that providing more space to India in Afghanistan will not only result in more bloodshed in that country. At the same time, it will seriously exacerbate regional tensions as New Delhi is overtly carrying out sabotage activities in Pakistan through its proxy Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, whose leader Mulla Fazlullah is safely hiding in Afghan areas bordering Pakistan.
According to Trump, the US will shift away from a “time-based” approach, instead linking its assistance to results and cooperation from the Afghan government and Pakistan. “America will work with the Afghan government as long as we see determination and progress. However, our commitment is not unlimited, and our support is not a blank cheque.” The US is free to take whatever decision it deems fit in relation to economic and military aid to Afghanistan. The use of civilian and military aid as a pressure lever with Pakistanis has been tried for years, but it had only added to the formidability of the terrorism challenge. Insofar as the Coalition Support Fund proceeds are concerned, these must not be construed as US aid to Islamabad, for they inflows strictly constitute reimbursement of its non-Nato ally’s expenses in the global war on terror. The US mantra that Pakistan harbours the Haqqani network has lost its legitimacy, if there was any, with the 37-day Khyber-IV operation that the Pakistani armed forces have just undertaken in the militants-infested Rajgal Valley. More importantly, as argued by many independent analysts, Trump’s policy of engaging India and threatening action against Pakistan will only hurt efforts aimed at seeking an Afghan solution. Trump must not lose sight of the fact that China, in its reaction to his unsavoury remarks about Pakistan, has pointed out that “Pakistan is at the frontline of fighting terrorism, making an important contribution to upholding peace and stability [in the region].” Trump can appease India for whatever reason but he must not do this by alienating its neighbours-China and Pakistan-in the greater interest of regional stability.