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August 27, 2017

Staying the course in Afghanistan


August 27, 2017

The US has stepped up its criticism over Pakistan’s perceived non-cooperation in delivering Afghanistan. Pakistanis lost no time in shredding to pieces Washington’s one-sided narrative and warnings. Pakistan would do well not to lose sight of the larger picture and draw appropriate inferences from the much heralded review of America’s strategy in Afghanistan. The bottom line of all that has been said by Trump & Co is that there will be no fundamental change in the US’ plans for the war-ravaged country.

I watched Trump’s speech in full and must say that the man does not suffer from the ideological baggage of nation-building or remaking the world a la neo-cons nor does he struggle with Obama’s agony over the just war in Afghanistan and the unjust one in Iraq. Trump is simply asking: what’s in it for him and his country? And he has added that he will not reveal the specifics of his war plans. By the end, the whole exercise appeared as a theatrical presentation rather than a genuine policy review. There is a clear intent to stay the course with some operational course correction.

The Trump speech also brought to fore the perennial dilemma of dealing with the terrible two of South Asia – Pakistan and India – while trying to sort out the mess in Afghanistan. Here, there is no originality. His muttering against Pakistan and lavishing praise on India was so 1962-ish. Washington has been going through pangs of love for India since New Delhi got into a big misadventure with China. Pakistan was quickly warned not to take advantage of ‘India’s China war’ by moving troops into Held Kashmir.

The edifice of Pak-US alliance came crumbling as the Kennedy administration, suitably filled by Boston Brahmins, worked day and night to take advantage of the situation to bring India into America’s fold. One begins to wonder if the Indian provocations on China’s frontier, somewhat like her current hostile military moves on the Chinese border, were not meant to wreck Pak-US relations, by demonstrating that Washington could count on India to be a challenger to China.

To some, this thesis may be farfetched. I have one simple question for their consideration. Did or did not 1962 war shake the very foundation of the Pak-US defence alliance which went into a state of limbo till the Soviet tanks came rolling across the Amu Darya into Afghanistan in 1979? India joined the group of countries that remained sympathetic to Moscow’s flagrant violation of a small country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Trump and Modi share a visceral hatred for the Muslims. We have yet to hear a single word from Trump about India’s colonial style repressive policies in Occupied Kashmir. It should not be a matter of surprise if Trump wants his pal in Delhi to join in Washington’s plans for Afghanistan. Trump has been briefed about American corporations’ assessment of the country’s mineral wealth. Some have been audacious to suggest the colonisation of Afghanistan to exploit its resources to pay for America’s war.

The US, of course, refuses to admit certain basic facts about Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban whom Trump labels as terrorists were in power till they were dislodged from Kabul by the US and allied forces including those of the Northern Alliance. They should not be called dissidents for trying to recover what they have lost. Secondly, the Afghan National Army is so dominated by the erstwhile Northern Alliance elements that a US withdrawal will hasten the Taliban’s return to Kabul.

The US is no doubt aware that terrorist attacks form part of the Taliban’s war tactics. That tactic will not change whether they have support in Pakistan or not. The only way for Washington to convince Pakistan against sheltering Afghan dissidents is to disprove the Pakistani thesis that the Taliban will outlast the American forces in Afghanistan.

Can official America have the brashness to side openly with corporate America to tell Pakistan that the US has plans for a long-term stay in Afghanistan? This stay will stretch up to the time when Afghanistan becomes another country depending on US/Western capital and technology to emerge from its millenary state of underdevelopment. That can only happen if the American troops can sit out till the present generation of Taliban leaders become history.

The stalemate in Afghanistan has links with the evolving alignments in the larger region. US actions to consolidate ties with India as a balancing factor to China have produced an opposite reaction by greater China-Pakistan cooperation in economic and defence fields. Nor will China look benignly at Washington’s overt invitations to India to get more active in Afghanistan. Traditional Taliban critics Russia and Iran too have regular contacts with the Afghan Taliban.

This is not the first time that Pakistan is confronted with a fundamental choice of sending the Afghan ‘dissidents’ back or continuing to allow them shelter or, as the US alleges, bases on our soil. Surprisingly, Pakistan’s public narrative lacks an important element: to offer reciprocal steps if India and Afghanistan renounce their assistance to anti-Pakistan networks operating out of Afghanistan. Let us hope that this issue is forcefully raised in meetings between Pakistani and American interlocutors, both civil and military, here as well as in Washington.

After a week of effervescence around the review, we basically stand where we were. The US strategy is designed not to abandon its protégés because the result would be their ouster from Kabul. Washington, despite its periodic tendency to leave, is going to stay in Afghanistan. Whether it is a holding exercise or develops into a colonial adventure depends on their stamina and their relative success.

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