US revised Policy on Afghanistan: Has Pakistan been made a Scapegoat?
Donald Trump while addressing American people has announced a revised US policy on Afghanistan vowing to continue fighting Taliban to avert the “predictable and unacceptable” results of the quick withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. However, the new policy as outlined by the US president notably lacks certain important details as to the number of troops that will be sent to Afghanistan and what would be the definition of success in the light of his new policy. Mr. President, however, was clear and unequivocal as he minced no words for lambasting Pakistan as he accused her of providing safe havens to terrorists. “For its part, Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror”, Mr. Trump said.
Invasion of Afghanistan, in the wake of September 2001 attack, to topple the Taliban regime has turned out to be the longest War in US history and unsurprisingly US is looking for someone to take responsibility of its failure. The War in Afghanistan has cost more than $1 trillion as well as casualties of around 3500 US Soldiers and military contractors. Pakistan has, in past, remained a favourite scapegoat of successive US governments that have held her responsible for their failure in Afghanistan and the latest tirade of Mr. Trump is the continuation of same strategy. So what is different this time? The previous governments were more sedate and diplomatic about the role of Pakistan is Afghanistan, whereas the latest remarks of Donald Trump were quite harsh and aimed at gathering support of local population rather than addressing international dispute.
Though Mr. Trump claimed that his policy, which he referred to as “principled realism” is starkly different from the policy of Obama Administration, but in essence this so called new policy, as Mushahid Hussain Syed aptly put in, “is essentially a facelift of a tried, tested and failed formula”. The policy aims to win the war by beefing up the security through increasing the number of US soldiers on ground and pressurizing Pakistan into do more against the safe havens of terrorists and extremists, while increasing the pace of development work with the economic and developmental help of India. Barring India’s greater role, Obama Administration did the same things for over eight years. Moreover, the role of American troops still would be, as was in the days of Obama, (since 2014) to train the Afghan troops to conduct counterterrorism operations.
In 2014, President Obama (as he was then) announced the end of combat operation and outlined timetable for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. Donald Trump during his campaign trial severely criticised the war in Afghanistan as wastage of American people’s tax money. However, as he insisted that his initial instinct was to withdraw from Afghanistan but claimed that he has been convinced that “a hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda.” To continue the long, and unwinnable war requires putting blame on someone’s shoulder and what better option is there than Pakistan, a country that has sacrificed the lives of more than 60,000 military personnals and civilian population. Though Mr. Trump recognized the sacrifices of people of Pakistan by saying that Pakistani people have suffered greatly from terrorism and extremism and recognized Pakistan’s contribution, but he also accused her of harbouring criminals and terrorists.
The next pillar of our new strategy is to change the approach in how to deal with Pakistan. We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe-havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond… But Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people. We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars. At the same time, they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change. And that will change immediately.
The policy of being tough with Pakistan and coerce her into doing more may not yield fruits owing to variety of reasons. Any long lasting solution to Afghan problem is difficult to achieve without the support of Pakistan that still wields considerable influence on Taliban, who cannot be brought to the table without the support of Pakistan. Though Mr. Trump has not provided the exact number of US troops that will be sent to Afghanistan, but it is being understood that they would be around 4000. It is highly sceptical that these 4000 troops would do miracles which the strong 100,000/- troops were unable to do. Moreover, inviting India to play a greater role in Pakistan, (which would definitely be viewed in Islamabad as to add insult to injury) would trigger a proxy war in Afghanistan between India and Pakistan to gain ground there. This surely is the last thing needed for Afghan peace.
US administration needs to understand that by singling out Pakistan, it has not done any good to the Afghan peace cause. Gone are the days when Pakistan would have wilted under the US pressure. Owing to its geostrategic position, Pakistan is serving as hub of regional economic activities (thanks mainly to CPEC) and enjoys good rapport with many regional players including China, Iran, and Russia and former was quick to come in support of Pakistan. With no military solution in sight, US needs to actively involved in diplomacy with regional players, including Pakistan.
It is, but a matter of time when Mr. President would discern that there is no military solution of war in Afghanistan as the enemy is both stateless and faceless. The road to peace in Kabul goes through Islamabad so instead of singing the war rhetoric his team must sit down with Islamabad for some serious diplomacy. With 40% Afghanistan already in control of Talibans, the sooner he realizes the better it is for the World peace in general and Afghan peace in particular.