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US policy objectives in Afghanistan?

Iqbal Khan


After three months into office, Afghanistan issue is picking up in President Trump’s calculus. Inter-agency review to, once again, determine the goals and milestones for the United States in Afghanistan is in progress.Bee line of high ranking officials has started. After National Security Adviser McMaster, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has also had his go. McMaster’s visit was precede by the US testing its largest non-nuclear bomb on Afghan soil, and Mattis arrived on the heels of a Taliban assault on a major army base in Mazar-i-Sharif in which more than 140 Afghan soldiers were killed. General John Nicholson, the head of international forces in Afghanistan, has said that he was “not refuting” reports that Russia was providing support, including arms, to the Taliban.Perception has it that Trump administration may be poised towards crafting a tough afghan policy.
At least 10 Taliban fighters, dressed in Afghan army uniform and drivingmilitary vehiclesmade their way into the Mazar-i-Sharif military base and opened fire on soldiers and recruits eating a meal and leaving a mosque after Friday prayers.Deadly attack came a little more than a week after the United States dropped mother of all bombs.
In a kneejerk reaction, Afghan President’s office announced the replacement of four army corps commanders, and eight army personnel were arrested.Afghanistan’s defence minister and army chief of staff have resigned after last week’s deadliest Taliban attack on a military base, one has to wait and see whether these resignations are real or symbolic. Despite his resignation, Afghan defence minister Abdullah Habibi attended a meeting with his American counterpart, Mattis.US Defense Secretary commented that he was “under no illusions” about the problems facing the country.Russia has been critical of America over its handling of the war in Afghanistan and has denied providing any material or financial aid to the insurgent group, but has owned to have ties with Taliban officials in order to push for peace talks.
Mattis held talks with Afghan President, other officials and the US commanders, who all want more US troops in Afghanistan. He said “2017 is going to be another tough year for the valiant Afghan security forces and the international troops who have stood, and will continue to stand, shoulder to shoulder with Afghanistan against terrorism.”
NSA’s visit was the first high level exchange from Trump Administration to Pakistan. The larger context of the meeting was to reflect on the regional situation, with particular reference to situation in Afghanistan, and how Pakistan and the US could address the situation in Afghanistan together, and bring lasting peace to the region. The question of Kashmir in the context of Pakistan-India relations was also discussed, as the situation has raised concerns across the world. Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US have a shared interest in promoting peace in Afghanistan, while India has been doing the role of a spoiler under the garb of infrastructure development in Afghanistan.
As far as recognition of Pakistan’s efforts towards fight against terrorism is concerned, the US and the entire world at various levels of political leadership have time and again recognized Pakistan’s contributions. The US military commanders and Congressmen who visited those border areas in Pakistan that were previously considered terrorist infested areas lauded Pakistan’s gains.
These days, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai is floating an interesting perspective. Heopines that Daesh (ISIS) was a “tool” of the US and that he does not differentiate between Daesh and America.Karzai told VOA’s Afghan service: “After it (US) dropped the bomb on Afghanistan, it did not eliminate Daesh.” “I consider Daesh their tool,” he said. “I do not differentiate at all between Daesh and America.”Karzai also dismissed criticism of Moscow’s ties with the Taliban. “They (Russia) talk to the Taliban,” Karzai said.”The US also talks to the Taliban. Norway, Germany and other countries also talk to them. Russia also has the right to hold talks with the Taliban.”He also acknowledged: “The Taliban is a major reality in today’s Afghanistan. The Americans themselves say that they (Taliban) control 50 percent of the Afghan territory. When a force controls 50 percent, countries have no option but to talk to them”. He criticized Afghan government for “allowing the US to drop such a big non-nuclear bomb. If government approved it, the act is treason.”He said the bombing was an insult to Afghanistan.
During McMaster’s courtesy call, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif informedhim that Pakistan was committed to a peaceful neighbourhood and highlighted the measures taken by Pakistan to reach out to both problematic neighboures-India and Afghanistan. Prime Minister shared his concerns over the nose-down security situation in Afghanistan,as well as continuation of impasse with regard to trichotomy of transition-military, economic and political. Nawaz Sharif communicated Pakistan’s readiness to work with the international community to explore ways for resolving Afghan conflict.With regard to India, the premier reaffirmed his firm resolve on unrelentingnegotiations and evocativeassignation as the way out to resolve all outstanding issues between the two countries inclusive of Kashmir issue. PM recalled President Trump’s eagerness to facilitate India and Pakistan for settling their differences especially on Kashmir and observed such trilateral initiative could augur well for achieving durable peace, security and prosperity to the region.
“General McMaster assured the PM that the new administration is engaged in working together with Pakistan for peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region”,Pakistani government sources commented.American embassy commented that McMaster welcomed the democratic and economic progress and underlined the need to attack terrorism under all its forms, indicated the American Embassy in Islamabad. After NSA’s meeting with the Army Chief, General Qamar JavedBajwa,DG ISPR reported: “He acknowledges Pakistan’s efforts in war against terrorism. He hailed our contributions and whatever discussions took place both sides were of the view that Pak-Afghan border management is very essential to control the terrorism.”
Pakistan has announced that its plan to fence the entire border with Afghanistan is underway and scores of new outposts are also being built to prevent terrorist infiltration. A total of 338 security posts and forts will be constructed along the frontier by the end of 2019; 42 such installations have been built while work on another 63 is under way. Both countries have long pledged to improve security in the region and go after terror groups based in the rugged and mountainous border areas.
Pakistan has done well in conveying that Pakistan believes in reaching out to both India and Afghanistan in furtherance of its policy of good neighbourly relations with all countries of the region. Pakistan and the US have been close friends over decades and a continued strong partnership between the two countries remains critical to promoting and sustaining peace and stability in the wider region.Conveying Pakistan’s concerns over the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, the Adviser to PM on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz highlighted the importance of effective border management as part of the actions required to achieve sustainable peace in the region. He added that the “strong partnership” between Pakistan and the US is “critical to promoting and sustaining peace and stability in the wider region.” NSA’s visit afforded yet another opportunity to Pakistani leadership to have meaningful consultations with new US administration on crucial issues of bilateral interest.Pakistan wishes to build its relations with the new administration.NSA’s visit could hopefully, help clear some of the ambiguities and irritants-especially with regard to peace in Afghanistan.

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