American mindset about Afghanistan continues to be pegged around two fallacies. Firstly, praising military successes of occupation and Afghan troops, and, secondly, blaming others for what Afghanistan is or what it is not today. The US National Security Adviser HR McMaster has said in a recent radio interview that the White House wanted to see a “change in behaviour” from interested groups in the region, particularly Pakistan. He said while Pakistan had suffered “great losses” fighting the Taliban, they had done so “selectively”. McMaster defended the campaign in Afghanistan, arguing they had seen “tremendous” success in the country. “There’s a tremendously successful campaign going on with Afghan forces in the lead in Nangarhar province of Afghanistan,” McMaster said.He defended the US commander in Afghanistan following reports that President Trump wanted to fire him. “I’ve known him for many years,I can’t imagine a more capable commander on any mission.”McMaster said of General Allen John Nicholson
On its part,Pakistan has advised the Trump administration, during a recent visit of a US delegation headed by Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia and Special Representatives for Pakistan and Afghanistan Alice Wells, to “follow the path of negotiations instead of relying on the use of force to find a solution to the lingering Afghan conflict”. Islamabad strongly feels that the only road to peace in Afghanistan is through an all-inclusive dialogue.Pakistan has emphasized that the use of force would not solve the problem in Afghanistan. “If use of force is the answer, Afghanistan would be at peace long ago,”
American delegation was informed about Pakistan’s ‘strategic grievances’, particularly regarding the role of some ‘hostile agencies’ taking advantage of the fluid situation in Afghanistan. “Pakistan certainly wants its genuine strategic concerns to be heard and addressed,” and unless a broader regional framework is evolved, peace in Afghanistan would remain elusive. One of Pakistan’s main concerns is the increasing footprint of Indian intelligence agencies in Afghanistan.
The in-progress US policy review is not confined to Afghanistan, Washington is looking to evolve a plan for the South Asian region involving Pakistan, India and Iran.Like other areas of foreign policy, thought process of President Trump’s administration about Afghanistan and South Asia is erratic and chaotic. Unless there is a bold course correction with regard to American end objectives in Afghanistan, there is no likelihood of Afghanistan getting any better. So far discernable American military objective is to keep 10-15000 combat ready personnel in Afghanistan who should appear helping Afghan government overcome country wide insurgency with an actual be’ prepared mission’ to be ready to handle contingencies in South Asia and may be Central Asia as well.
To nurture supportive environment for a peaceful Afghanistan is not an American military’s priority, at least for the time being. The US may feel contended with nominal control on urban centres while letting rural centres rot in a state of lawlessness. And a weak Afghan government and unmanaged Afghan borders are important tools in achieving this objective.
The silver lining is that President Trump has not reconciled with the US military’s objectives in Afghanistan, he is interested in winning the Afghan war. He is quite skeptic of haunting US involvement in foreign wars and is not keen in open ended military deployments with vague objectives. Reuters has reported that President told his aids: “We aren’t winning.” He is pushing the Pentagon and State Department to come out with a clear cut war ending strategy. Trump’s factual understanding about the war in Afghanistan is resulting in his reluctance to take the recommended strategy on its face value. “We aren’t winning,” he vehemently complained that the military was allowing the US to lose the war. He is even considering to fire the US military commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen Nicholson for not winning the war.
And from “business point of view” Trump wants Afghans to share the cost of war by giving equitable share to the US in its mineral wealth estimated to be around US$ one trillion. Trump is of the view that while the US is expending its dollars and blood the Chinese are profiting from their mining operations in Afghanistan. However, without securing the entire country, which could take many years, there is no way to get the country’s mineral riches to market, except to Iran! And securing the entire country is well beyond the capacity of occupation forces, they never thought of it even during erstwhile surge eras. Trump thinks that Afghan government ought to share the pain and cost of the war. So far, Afghan leadership only wants to perpetuate instability in the country for prolonging its rule. Reportedly during a July 19 meeting in the White House, Trump demanded of his national security team to come up with additional information regarding envisaged “the end-state” in Afghanistan. Trump has already authorized Mattis to add around 4,000 more US troops to Afghanistan, subject to approval of new strategy.
Under the US military’s proposed war strategy parameters focus would remain at securing important urban centres only. If so, most affected parties would be immediate six neighbours of Afghanistan, with all of whom Afghanistan’s border management is poor, to say the least. Hence, flow of drugs, arms and undesirable persons will continue to play disruptive role in neighbouring countries. Worst effected country shall be Pakistan, because over the years, Afghanistan has allowed India to use its territory to set up requisite wherewithal to conduct terrorist activities up to in-depth urban centres of Pakistan.
Under these circumstances, anti-Pakistan narrative is getting adhesion in all three power centres of the American government: Pentagon; Capitol Hill; and State Department. A deliberate effort is on to portray Pakistan as main hindrance towards achievement of American objectives in Afghanistan. Senator John McCain has proposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act 2018, suggesting a ‘carrot and stick’ policy to persuade Pakistan to break its alleged nexus with Afghan Taliban, especially the Haqqani network. Interestingly this Senator has visited North Waziristan twice, during recent months, and had praised Pakistan’s effort towards dislodging militancy in that area. While at the same time the Senator while in Kabul had issue blistering anti Pakistan statements. The spirit of McCain’s suggestions is already operational. Disbursement of CSF component of US$ 50 million has already been withheld because the Defence Secretary has refused to certify that Pakistan is doing enough to decimate Haqqani Network.
Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua while talking to the US delegation said that Pakistan supports all initiatives aimed at promoting sustainable peace and security in the region. She emphasized that a strong partnership with the United States was critical in achieving these shared objectives. The visiting delegation was informed about the overall gains that Pakistan has been able to make in the last few years’ in line with the priorities set by the government, especially creating an enabling security environment through vigorous counter terrorism operations.
Wells agreed on the importance of a strong partnership between the US and Pakistan and gave American perspective on how to move forward this relationship in the coming years. According to her “objective of bilateral cooperation was to seek a stable, secure and prosperous Pakistan.” She stressed that “Pakistan’s soil must not be used to plan or conduct terrorist attacks against its neighbours”. Pakistan vehemently denies this assertion.
President Trump is right that the US and its allies have failed to win the battle against the Taliban. Today, insurgents control more than half of Afghanistan and are expanding their writ. Hopefully, he would prevail to extract a peace oriented strategy from his team. Any reversion to status quo ante is not likely to resolve the issue.