Is Pakistan and Problem or Solution for Afghanistan?
CSS Current Affairs
President Donald Trump’s belated announcement of his administration’s Afghan Policy is ominous. Never mind that it is an unabashed reversal of his passionate pre-election position to pull out of Afghanistan because it’s not America’s war. Now it’s very much America’s war and there is no option but to win it. This winning is to be done on the basis of a three-pronged strategy. (CSS Current Affairs)
About 4000-5000 additional US troops will be pumped in to bring the total up to 12,000 or so. With over 60% of Afghan territory in Taliban control, this is peanuts. It won’t even suffice to make Kabul and a couple of other cities immune from Taliban attacks.
India will be asked to help with investments in infrastructure. How does that help in winning a war with an implacable enemy for whom fighting is the natural order of life?
Pakistan will be arm-twisted to abandon an entrenched national security policy that is unacceptable to India and pro-India Afghan regimes. This is to be done by leveraging economic and military aid to Pakistan along with military reprisals against the Haqqani network in Pakistan. Again, there is not much to write home about unless international donor agencies and financial institutions are also pressured to pull out and trade barriers are specifically erected against Pakistani exports to the US. But that risks devaluing social sector development and precipitating an economic crisis that will create a wave of angry, alienated, jobless youngsters ready to pick up arms and join IS or the Taliban against the Great Satan, not just defeating the very purpose of the exercise but creating the preconditions of anti-American state breakdown as in the Middle East. Instead of winning in Afghanistan, this policy risks losing nuclear-armed Pakistan.
There is no recognition of the inherent failures of the Afghan regime to stand up on its own feet and defend itself, let alone concerted efforts to put that house in order. There is no understanding of the developing regional interests of Iran, Russia and China in Afghanistan, let alone efforts to rope them into a collective regional strategy for building peace and stability in Afghanistan.
In fact, the most shocking dimension of the new US Afghan policy is the focus on Pakistan as being part of the main problem rather than part of the solution. If Pakistan were to become part of the solution, the US would need to address its core security concerns regarding India (that have unfortunately been strengthened by the belligerence of the Modi regime) so that peace and stability along our Eastern border can become a platform upon which to stabilize and cement our Western border. How can any country feel secure when one pro-American neighbour disputes its established border with it and another will not let it establish its rightful claims at the time of independence? But Pakistan is part of the problem for the US because India is part of its solution against China while China is part of the solution for Pakistan because India is part of the problem for it.
In short, there isn’t sufficient Bushism in Trumpism to make it a solid military strategy in terms of a troop surge to subdue the Taliban and compel them to start talking peace. But there’s not much Obamaism too in terms of deadlines for troop withdrawal that the Taliban can sit out. But it is Trump’s threatening attitude toward Pakistan that is worrying.
Pakistan can deal with US economic leveraging within limits. It is in neither’s interest to cross certain red lines. Indiscriminate drone strikes in Pakistan’s settled areas will rebound to US disadvantage because Taliban leaders have already dispersed, even to Iran and beyond, to bide their time much as they did after the Tora Bora bombing campaign in 2001. Any border transgressions or hot pursuit will be fiercely resisted by the Pakistan army without distinguishing between American, NATO or Afghan forces. If Salala is repeated by the Americans, the Pakistanis are bound to retaliate. And so on. A tense stalemate would not benefit the Americans but it would provoke angry Pakistanis into terrorist reprisals globally. How will that help America’s war against terrorism?
The stage is being set for exacerbating distrustful and tense relations in the region when all stakeholders should be reaching out for the opposite. Trump’s Afghan policy is likely to worsen Washington’s relations with Pakistan. But Pakistan’s relations with India and Afghanistan will also worsen because both will become more self-righteous and more belligerent on the back of Trump’s assurances and leanings. India and China are already sparring in the high north while Russia and Iran will do their bit to enmesh the Americans further in this quagmire.
Pakistan’s response should be measured and responsible. We are in a hostile situation. Bravado would be counter-productive. Engagement should be the name of the game. A dynamic review of our own national Security policy is urgently required in these circumstances. Above all, the civilian and military leadership should fashion a united front to face this challenge.
Courtesy: Najam Sethi