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August 25, 2017

A reluctant Trump’s flawed offensive


August 25, 2017

What can you expect from an unhinged and unpredictable American president? Anything: from extremely divisive remarks equating white supremacist fascists’ violence with defenders of civil liberties in Charlottesville to terming the Afghan war a “complete waste” and then repeating a failed strategy for an “honourable and enduring outcome”. So, should we take him seriously now?

Indeed, we must since it has not come from what The New York Times has editorially termed as “The failing Trump Presidency”, but from the mightiest militarist empire. Trump “follows his instinct”, as he said, but the decision has been taken by the compulsions of the Oval Office that is now entirely being dominated by a battery of the military commanders after the exit of his original team. Defense Secretary Gen Mattis is the architect of the new strategy with input by US National Security Advisor Gen McMaster; the entire top brass of US military establishment was on board when it was finalised at Camp David. Faced with the dilemma of “the consequences of rapid exit (that) are predictable and unacceptable”, in Trump’s words, which would have created a vacuum terrorists would have instantly filled, the US imperial military establishment has been trapped in the enigmatic quagmire of warfare that is a means of living for warring-Afghans-by-rotation.

After all, what is so new about the rephrased Afghanistan and South Asia strategy that my friend Jyoti Malhotra is so enamoured with the metamorphosis of the Af-Pak theatre into “AfPakIndia”? Almost all the elements are similar to what was pursued by the two previous US administrations – though at much lower military engagement. Discarding nation-building, which has cost over $100 billion (more than the Marshal Plan), and taking off the façade of promoting freedom and democracy, now emphasis is being laid on some kind of fire and fury to extract an “honourable” exit out of a still elusive shameful compromise with the Taliban. The onus is being shifted onto the non-Nato ally for the failure of the US military strategy. Trump accused Pakistan of “housing the very terrorists that we are fighting” despite getting billions of dollars.

Repeating almost what was jointly stated during Prime Minister Modi’s last US visit – to also remind Pakistan of the potential double-jeopardy – Trump has tried to lure India to increase its engagement on its own cost, ironically out of its $45 billion trade surplus with the US. There is no more a ‘blank cheque’ available for the corruption-ridden Kabul government that has survived with the backing of foreign troops and at the annual cost of $35 billion. It has rather been asked to pay for some of its military and administrative expenditures by bartering trillion dollar worth mineral resources for an imperialist militaristic reward.

The mission is ‘killing the terrorists’ with no restraints on the soldiers to coerce the Taliban into a negotiated political settlement, regardless of the nature of the political outcome. The elusive ‘win’ – which remains undefined – could not be achieved by the Obama administration with 100,000 Isaf troops and equal numbers of private contractors. Trump’s commanders are being tipped to achieve it with 12,400 American troops and 13,000 Nato troops. It may partially help turn around what Commander of US-led forces in Afghanistan Gen Nicholson termed as a “stalemate” with extremely excessive use of fire power and greater bloodshed of the valiant Afghans. The Taliban have survived the surge and now control approximately 40 percent of territory across Afghanistan. In response to President Trump’s challenge, the Taliban have vowed to “make Afghanistan a graveyard for America”.

By vociferously amplifying Pakistan’s soft policy towards the Afghan Taliban and certain other terrorist outfits, the US president has put Rawalpindi on a precarious notice to eradicate whatever sanctuaries may have been left. The previous US administrations had been raising this issue quite repeatedly, but the partnership had not altogether floundered. While US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Dunford recognised the strategic importance of Pakistan for peace in Afghanistan, the US is inclined to use various means to twist Islamabad’s arm. This must be worrying for Pakistan and it will have to take some pre-emptive and remedial measures, besides recalibrating its erstwhile Afghan Taliban policy.

High-level consultations between top military commanders of the US and Pakistan have taken place. DGPR Gen Ghafoor told Afghan journalists that “we have told (American military officials) that we have taken action against the Haqqani Network and all other terrorist groups, including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan”. He was probably referring to US Centcom commander’s visit to Pakistan last week. In his meeting with the US Ambassador to Pakistan, COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has reiterated that “peace in Afghanistan is as important for Pakistan as for any other country”. He emphasised: “collaboration and synergy of effort(s) between all stakeholders is the key to success to bring this long drawn war in Afghanistan to its logical conclusion”.

The COAS gave a sensible response by rightly emphasising the acknowledgement of Pakistan’s contribution and sacrifices in the war on terror, rather than any temptations regarding US financial assistance. The COAS knows the US cannot ignore the strategic importance of Pakistan nor can it afford to extend the Afghan war to Pakistan. And Pakistan cannot afford to annoy the US – to the benefit of India.

As the stated national policy so warrants, Pakistan has to firmly decide in its own national interest that its soil will not be used by terrorists against any country. Let the US find no footprints of terrorism emanating from Pakistan. Let the Afghan Taliban not become our liability. If requested, Pakistan can try to use whatever influence it has left with the resurgent Afghan Taliban, who have diversified their international connections, to come to negotiation table. A specific strategic approach by some has been to see the Afghan Taliban as a kind of countervailing force to keep our northern backyard secure and counter India’s moves of using the TTP outlaws in its proxy war against Pakistan. But the Afghan Taliban have never extended a helping hand to check the TTP.

While Islamabad must demand reciprocity from the US-Afghan side in nabbing TTP outlaws, it should also make it clear that it doesn’t want the exclusive return of the Afghan Taliban in Kabul. That would just end up reinforcing violent extremist forces in Pakistan, which still pose a formidable threat to our internal security.

The fact is that, from the Soviet Union to the US-led Nato, everyone has failed in Afghanistan. Even if Pakistan fully sides with the US, there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict. Neither a takeover of Kabul by the Taliban nor a coalition of warlords and hodgepodge elements in the Unity Government can make peace endurable. Instead of making Afghanistan a theatre of various international powers or a tug of war between regional countries, all must join hands to defuse this perpetual volcano of destabilisation. India should learn from Pakistan’s mistakes and think of turning this unnecessary adversity into an opportunity for peace and cooperation in the region.

Ultimately, Pakistan’s only interest with Afghanistan is that the Pak-Afghan border is secured and duly recognised by the two sides while allowing free movement of people and goods across the Durand Line. Peace in Afghanistan is inseparable from peace in Pakistan; so should it be between India and Pakistan as well.


The writer is a senior journalist. Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @ImtiazAlamSAFMA


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