By: Qaraar Sarhadi
The long-awaited Trump’s Afghan policy is finally announced and the wait wasn’t worth it. Most likely America plans to stay for a while. Trump announced an increase of at least 4000 to already 8000-10000 American army personnel; contrary to his previous office holder who intended to withdraw American troops. But Trump’s policy carries aggressive and offensive overtures. He designs to deal with Taliban with an iron hand if a peaceful settlement of the conundrum is not reached. Diplomatically, the policy has, once again, asked Pakistan to do more; about the Haqqani network and so-called anti-Afghanistan terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan. In a not surprising move, U.S has decided to increase the role of India- Pakistan’s arch-rival- in Afghanistan.
In retrospect, the increase in the number of soldiers has exacerbated the protracted Afghan war instead of paving way for a peaceful settlement. If a military solution was viable, the matter should’ve dealt with right now for it has been 17 years of military presence-world mightest military. Taliban’s primary condition for talks with the Afghan government is the exclusion of foreign involvement, in fact, Taliban do not want any foreign usurper on their land. Quite contrary to Taliban’s condition, America is increasing its military presence which Taliban vehemently oppose and vow to fight. So, if the military presence increases so do the militant activities which will result in a catastrophic situation as ISIS is also taking ground in Afghanistan. The situation might imitate the middle-east quagmire, in particular, Syrian crisis. Too many cooks spoil the broth and this broth has already been spoiled multiple times. These cooks are the regional players involved directly or indirectly through proxies in Afghanistan to pursue their vested interest. Here we will discuss the role of regional players in the context of Trump’s new Afghan policy.
India and Pakistan:
India and Pakistan have a history of perennial hostility since their independence from Great Britain. Apart from Kashmir being the flash point of the conflict, sir creek, and Kargil are also prone to trigger a confrontation between the two nuclear states. Since the partition, India has never accepted the fact that Pakistan is now a sovereign state as they still believe in the reunification of India as an ultimate goal of Hindutva. From the very start, they had conspired to destabilize and divide Pakistan either directly- the fall of Dhaka- or indirectly- by supporting separatist movements in Balochistan as evident from the confessions of arrested Indian spy, a serving naval officer of Indian Navy, Kalbushan Yadhav. Here comes the importance of increased interest of India in Afghanistan. Indian officials-PM Modi, FM Sushma Swaraj, and their Defence Minister- have reiterated their malign intention to isolate Pakistan regionally as well as globally. In order to do so, Afghanistan, being the center of realpolitik for regional hegemony in South Asia, India is actively engaged in expanding its clout in the corridors of Afghanistan’s government by wooing them with economic aid and spreading a malicious propaganda against Pakistan. Now that America has also asked Indian increased involvement in Afghanistan, its increased presence is not a good omen for Pakistan. Pakistan has perpetually informed Afghan and US govt. about their reservations on Indian involvement and its support for the anti-Pakistan TTP safe havens in Eastern Afghanistan.Moreover, India also intends to sabotage Pakistan’s already feeble relationship with the incumbent Afghan Govt. Pakistan shares the longest and immediate boundary, and also culture, religion, and ethnicity( not to mention history) with Afghanistan. Pakistan has been suffering the brunt of post cold war and post 9/11 gimmicks of superpowers in form of Klashinkov culture, drug trafficking, and frequent movement of manifold terrorist outfits through the porous boundaries carrying out terrorist attacks inside Pakistan sabotaging peace necessary for a vibrant economy. So, a peaceful Afghanistan- at least clean of anti-Pakistan elements- is also in Pakistan’s strategic interest. Both the states strive to increase their clout in Afghanistan to achieve their goals. This tug of war has not only undermined the peace process in Afghanistan but also deteriorated the regional peace and security. Now that the US has sidelined rather blamed Pakistan-the most important player- for her own failure, the balance of regional struggle for hegemony in Afghanistan is disturbed. India will become more confident and Pakistan more conscious of Indian activities in Afghanistan. A mere misconception can trigger a nuclear confrontation between the two arch-rivals.
Russia, China, and Iran:
Russia has suffered and seen the repercussions of a superpower withdrawal from Afghanistan as USSR was the primary victim when it left Afghanistan after 1988. Subsequently, USSR broke into Central Asian Countries(CARs). Russia does not want terrorist outfits to infiltrate their country once the US left Afghanistan.Hence, she intends to keep up with the elements that might become major players afterward- Taliban. There have been reports of Russia’s collaboration with Taliban through back-channels. However, Russia has also been active in the peace process as evident from the recent trilateral dialogue among Pakistan, China, and Russia regarding peace process in Afghanistan. Same goes for Iran as she wants her Shia brethren-Hazara community- to be safe in the Afghanistan of Taliban.
OBOR, being the impetus for China inclusive foreign policy in recent years, has prompted China to involve itself more actively in the global politics shunning the previous policy of isolationism so it can achieve its goal of reaching the markets of different parts of the world. CPEC is also a part of OBOR which passes through Pakistan, Afghanistan, and CARs to reach its destination- Eastern and Central Europe.Hence, a peaceful Pakistan and Afghanistan are necessary for the CPEC to work out successfully. China is actively participating in bringing peace in Afghanistan as evident from its active part in Quadrilateral Coordinational Group’s(QCG) endeavors to settle the Afghanistan quagmire.
Why Trump’s Policy is doomed to failure?
The paradox and dilemma of Trump’s policy is its unpredictability as he mentioned in his policy that American presence will depend on the situation on the ground. Why Trump’s policy is doomed to failure because there is nothing new in the policy while the situation has and is drastically changing due to fragile regional geopolitical dynamics of Asia. There is two tug of wars for claiming hegemony in the South Asia i.e between a superpower and emerging superpower- the US vs China- and on regional level Pakistan vs India.We have discussed earlier Pakistan vs India conflict in the context of the said question in the perspective of bilateral issues. But here we will discuss their roles in the context of interests of the superpowers.
US major ally in the region is India as declared in the Trump’s new policy as well while China’s major ally is Pakistan. Where the US signed defense and economic agreements of worth billions dollar with India, China is investing in Pakistan through CPEC. In order to contain China’s clout in the region, US, and India create hurdles in the efforts of peaceful settlement of Afghanistan issues. The untimely announcement of Mulla Omar’s death and killing of Taliban new leader Mansoor in the Balochistan province of Pakistan when under the aegis of QCG Pakistan was collaborating with Taliban to bring them to the table for the talk. India is threatened by the economic prospect of CPEC for Pakistan and hence tries to sabotage it by hook or crook- Kulbushan Yadhav confessions and Chaubahar port fiasco. Taliban’s stance is clear. They have stood by their conditions from the very start-US departure and release of their prisoners. What is unclear is US intentions as evident from Trump’s new policy hence the menace continues.
In the whole discussion, I’ve ignored the role of Afghan Govt. the reason is that Afghan govt. has no say in its matter as it’s under the dictate of US and under the influence of India.Moreover, the leadership and the Unity Govt. is highly fragile, incompetent and corrupt.
Two points of Trump’s new policy can further deteriorate the Afghan conundrum: Increased military presence and increased Indian involvement. Increased military presence will prompt Taliban to become more cautious which will push them away from the negotiation table.China and especially Pakistan are the key player in solving the Afghan puzzle and both have unsolved issues with India. Increased Indian involvement means growing Indian hegemony in the region, hence, a powerful ally of US in South Asia to sustain its clout.This will make China and Pakistan suspicious of US intentions to seriously solve the Afghan problem amicably.Moreover, ‘Divided’ Unity Government of Afghanistan has no potential to address the matter with a concrete and an agreed proposal.
Reduce the military presence and increase diplomatic overtures. Strive for a peaceful settlement by reinvigorating the platform of QCG. India doesn’t fit into the equation as it will tilt the issue towards Pak-Indo conflict; the US must realize this. Sharing of intelligence information to eradicate the terrorist sanctuaries in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Growing ISIS presence in the region is a matter of grave concern and should be nip in the bud. To solve the Afghanistan problem, a sincere and concerted effort is necessary.