Perhaps the single greatest mistake — and failing — of the Obama administration was the ‘pivot to Asia.’ China is ascendant and uncontained or constrained, and America took its eye off several balls — the Ukraine, the Baltic states and the Middle East — and the Trump administration is recalibrating American foreign policy. Inevitably, Pakistan is going to feel the winds of change. On Friday 23rd June Washington’s special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan stepped down and there is no replacement notified at the time of writing, nor expected to be. Laurel Miller is returning to her substantive post in the Rand Corporation and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is quoted as saying he has not yet made up his mind what to do with the post. The US is about to send more troops to Afghanistan in an effort to curb the advance of the Taliban.
The concept behind the post was that Pakistan and Afghanistan and their conflicts and difficulties were so inextricably interlinked that they had to be viewed as an entity, separate but conjoined. The Tillerson view is different, and he prefers to handle the issue at a regional level and that means including India. With the US currently on something of a charm offensive with the Indians and Indian Premier Modi about to visit the White House a shift in focus was inevitable. The implications are complex. The US has made very clear the lack of trust that exists in respect of Pakistan; and it has been notably silent on the Kashmir issue but the matter cannot be avoided indefinitely and India will be anxious to avoid any internationalisation of the conflict. The Trump administration may have little time for old and established positions and India may find itself between a rock and a hard place — keen to advance trading relationships whilst protecting its position vis-à-vis Kashmir.
India and China are both players in Afghanistan and both are being courted by America which is not courting either us or Afghanistan. Interesting times.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 25th, 2017.