US Afghan Strategy: Flaws & Evolving Challenges?

 

By Qamar Syed Rizvi.

 

President Trump on last Monday unveiled his much-anticipated agenda for Afghanistan, a plan heavy on broad goals and light on details. But seen realistically, the Trump administration has added troubles to much complex Afghan scenario. The Current Afghan policy fostered by Washington seems to be a future part of the problem rather than resolving the crises faced by the most turbulent region.

Trump’s team has been working on a new US strategy in Afghanistan for months now. Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee in June that he would be able to present a strategy for victory there in mid-July. But the deliberations continued past that deadline, and Mattis said last Monday that the administration was “very, very close” to a decision after presenting Trump with a wide range of options, including everything from a surge of troops there to a full withdrawal.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that Trump administration has almost reached a decision on a new approach for fighting the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan. Months ago the Pentagon had settled on a plan to send approximately 3,800 additional troops to help strengthen the Afghan army, which is stuck in what some call a deteriorating stalemate with the Taliban insurgency.

Trump said, ‘’as a result of our comprehensive review, American strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia will change dramatically in the following ways. A core pillar of our new strategy is a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions. I’ve said it many times how counterproductive it is for the United States to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin or end military options’’.

Trump said,” We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” he said, warning that vital aid could be cut. That will have to change and that will change immediately’’.

If the US does not consider our legitimate concerns and just toes India’s line, then we will certainly move closer to China and Russia,” the Pakistani official said, referring to Pakistan’s first “contingency plan.” 
As for the Americans, the confusion hovering over the rounded debate about the new policy is: as to how the US administration can closely align the Taliban is today with the terrorist groups, and whether the Taliban would once again allow al-Qaida to operate out of a territory it controls. The Taliban also actively battles the Islamic State in Afghanistan, which consists of several splinter groups and elements expelled from the Taliban. At the same time, the Taliban has not denounced al-Qaida officially and, while al-Qaida has been severely degraded, it has lost none of its zeal to strike Western countries and undermine governments elsewhere.

Whereas for the Pakistani administration, a US South Asia policy, highly reflective of an Indian mindset, by no means be acceptable to Islamabad since it has had no consideration of the concerns established by Pakistan vis-à-vis India’s provoked terrorism via Afghanistan.

 

Some American policy strategists urge that U.S. interests in Afghanistan go beyond terrorism. An unstable Afghanistan risks also destabilizing Pakistan and the entire region of Central and South Asia. If Afghanistan is unstable, Pakistan risks becoming deeply destabilized and distracted from tackling its other crises. And from a strategic perceptions standpoint, few areas are as important as Afghanistan. A gradual but steady crumbling of the Kabul government, with a progressively greater accretion of territory and power by the Taliban, would be sufficient to claim victory.

The US reputation and self-regard—as a country that can be relied upon to honor its commitments—are at stake in Afghanistan. The United States made a pledge to the Afghan people to help them improve their difficult condition and not abandon them once again. To be sure, altruistic concern for the people of Afghanistan is not sufficient for the U.S. to undertake—or to perpetuate—what has turned out to be an immensely costly effort. Nor should the tyranny of sunk costs determine U.S. policy in Afghanistan; as George Kennan once said about Vietnam, the hallmark of a great power is to know when to liquidate unwise commitments. But U.S. engagement in Afghanistan—including the deployment of adequate military force—still advances key U.S. interests. But these idealist aspirations harboured by the US policy makers in the White House have remained unable to realistically look into the Afghan scenario.

The Trump administration is going to have to explain why US is staying there, not in terms of the original reason the US went in, but in terms of what has always been a kind of secondary mission—important and costly as that mission is today—that was never the prime reason for the US to be staying there. Ant that is why the former administration of the White House under Obama has moved towards an exit strategy.

Trump said, “our new strategy breaks from previous approaches that set artificial calendar-based deadlines. We are making clear to the Taliban that they will not win on the battlefield. The Taliban has a path to peace and political legitimacy through a negotiated political settlement to end the war.” He also suggested that, unlike the Obama administration, his goal in Afghanistan was to kill terrorists, not engage in nation-building. (That is actually less of a distinction between the two administration’s policies than Trump suggests.) Trump said, India’s role is critical in Afghanistan stability. He highlighted India’s future role in the economic development of the Afghan people- an approach that New Delhi does not support. And yet fundamental flaws shown in Trump’s Afghan policy are as following;

1-Under the new policy, a gap of misunderstanding between Washington and Islamabad would be more widened.

2-A gap– of misunderstanding on the issue of Taliban and the governance in Kabul—would be more widened between New Delhi and Islamabad

3- The increase of NATO troops would develop sick confidence about US’s exit intention from the Afghan soil- an intent that majority of Afghan Taliban desires

4-Without involving Pakistan, It appreciates to be an illusionary scenario that a stable Afghanistan can emerge

5-The cost and benefit analysis of the present US policy indicates that a more tense regional dynamics can be orchestrated as the twin play game by both US-India in Afghanistan

6-Pakistan will be enhancing and depending more on China and Russia, and would try to rebalance the US-India Afghan strategy there with making a closer union with Turkey- Iran-Pakistan

7-To dash out the expanding threat of Al-Qaeda/Daesh or its penetration into different parts of Afghanistan seems not an easy going game without Pak military support since Pakistan forces have profound experience in tacking counterinsurgency issue more skilfully than India

8-The divisions or regrouping in Afghan Taliban is highly possible after the new US policy

9-Pakistan may become more resilient on the issue of Haqqani network

10-The new policy will brew an atmosphere of new confusion and misunderstanding between Kabul and Islamabad

The above mentioned flaws brew some significant challenges to the Trump administration: First, the establishment of regional peace seems a mammoth task. Second, the future of US-Pak relations seems uncertain. Third, US military as well the strategic objects of the Afghan war seem highly unpredictable to achieve. Fourth, there is high risk of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan since with the new Afghan policy India may be euphoric about its role. Fifth, the relations between Beijing and Washington and Moscow and Washington may become more tensed. Sixth, the majority of the Afghans and the Taliban may form a greater alliance against the US and its Nato allies in Afghanistan.

Objectively, U.S. policy should aim to protect the integrity of the Afghan state and, toward that end, attempt to end the conflict in ways that mitigate the threats of terrorism, instability, and conflict in the region. More troops—he refused to specify the number—are headed for Afghanistan, not, Trump hastened to note, to engage in nation building, but to kill terrorists. After sixteen years in Afghanistan, America has already killed a lot of terrorists, but new ones are doting up to replace the old, much like the opium poppy fields in that country. The more likely prospect is that Washington will remain mired for years in Afghanistan, engaged in a protracted holding action to be hemmed in by the hovering uncertainties with regard to a future direction in that area.

Should not the true failures of the US war in Afghanistan be examined by the American policy researchers that the smart power doctrine once promised by the Obama administration was not implemented in its letter in spirit in Afghanistan? To refrain from the possible hurdles that may act as stumbling block in the way of establishing durable peace in the South Asian region, America needs must to bring the three important players—Pakistan, Afghanistan and India to the negotiating table, failing which, no plan would become successful. While taking into confidence the other stake holders—China, Russia, and Iran, is also imperative to restoring the atmosphere of regional harmony and peace. Pakistan does not want material or financial assistance from the US, but needs to be trusted and treated with respect, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa told US Ambassador David Hale in Islamabad.

A comprehensive diplomatic discourse has to be exhausted between Washington and Islamabad in order to mend the fences between the two sides since Pakistan holds key strategic position in the brewing Afghan conflict. And it is highly suggestible that the Trump’s administration must take the benefit from the thought that Richard N Haass (President of the Council of Foreign Affairs) has imparted towards South Asia. Has argues in his book, war of necessity, war of choice that Afghanistan has become a war of choice. “Doing more militarily may not result in lasting improvements in the security situation that are commensurate with the costs.” The South Asian regional dynamics graduate the wisdom that pragmatism, not realism should be the core of US policy in Afghanistan and South Asia.

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