Many security and foreign policy analysts have globally criticised President Trump for his recently pronounced policy towards South Asia and Afghanistan. Trump’s policy is unlikely to stabilise peace in Afghanistan but would contribute to protracted war in it. Victory in Afghanistan can no longer be achieved by prolonging war, but through non-war means.
Trump’s speech appears to be sketchy with considerable incoherence and lack of clear-cut strategy or achievable policy plan to conclude a long-held war. For example, the focus of Trump’s speech is on continuation of war and achieving victory through combat and employment of additional forces in Afghanistan and pressuring Pakistan. Trump’s policy fails to comprehend this region’s complex dynamics and divergent interests of the multiple regional actors and stakeholders involved in Afghanistan such as Iran, Russia and China in parallel to Pakistan and India. Peace in Afghanistan cannot be achieved without them on diplomatic grounds.
Trump did not refer to a collective response to countering the IS in Afghanistan. He did not focus much on socioeconomic developments in Afghanistan such as elimination of poverty, hunger, illiteracy, corruption and social stagnation. There seems no alteration and innovation in Trump’s strategy who clearly fails to depart from Obama’s. Trump possibly aims at intensifying the situation in Afghanistan, but it may yield unbearable consequences for the US at a time when it has many additional open fronts to deal with such as China’s rise, crisis in the Korean Peninsula, growing influence of the IS in the Middle East, etc. Trump did not talk about the quadrilateral group that was essentially formulated to conclude the protracted conflict in Afghanistan. He has announced the US’s commitments in the fraught region for an indefinite period, which seems to overstretch the US’s role in the future. He has delegated power to field commanders. This move would certainly shrink space for diplomacy and negotiations.
Trump has appreciated India’s shared role in terms of socioeconomic developments in Afghanistan without giving credence to Pakistan. He failed to provide Islamabad with concrete guarantees that Delhi will not make Afghanistan a proxy ground to launch attacks against it. Apparently, Trump has decentralised power to India preparing it as a bulwark against Pakistan and rising China, thereby legitimising the US’s mobility in the entire Indo-Pacific and Asia-Pacific region.
Trump fails to comprehend that Pakistan is in the centre of an emerging multipolar world order. Pakistan has paid an enormously heavy price for fighting America’s war while destabilising its growing economy. The US’s efforts of isolating Pakistan thereby discrediting its role in Afghanistan could push Islamabad closer to Russia, China, Turkey and Iran, exacerbating the US’s failed efforts to stabilising the war-torn Afghanistan. Russia and China have already backed Pakistan for its efforts in fighting the war against terrorism and Pakistan’s foreign minister has cancelled his visit to Washington and diverted it to China, Russia and Turkey.
Solutions are not based on instincts as Trump highlighted in his speech but on concrete plans and collective strategy involving all the regional stakeholders involved in Afghanistan at present. Both Pakistan and the US must work together to achieve shared goals of peace and stability in this region. The US can’t stabilise Afghanistan by isolating Pakistan and it can’t achieve much by driving a wedge between China and Pakistan. Islamabad should reinforce and revisit its diplomatic strategy towards the US as it is in Pakistan’s interest to keep Trump on its side by building trust and minimising fear of a Pak-China alliance. Pakistan should ensure the world that CPEC aims at regional connectivity in order to achieve socioeconomic development and prosperity by sharing the US’s burden on building peace and stability in this region.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2017.