Hollow Promises

Donald Trump’s new strategy for Afghanistan will not solve the problem, only make it worse

Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab

US President Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump ©WhiteHouse

Two conclusions can be drawn from the recently announced United States President Donald Trump’s strategy for Afghanistan: There will be a spurt in Pakistan’s proxy war in Kashmir with increased infiltration and volatility in the Valley. And the situation in Afghanistan will be the same when Trump finishes his term in office. US defence secretary James Mattis had, in June conceded, that ‘we are not winning the war in Afghanistan.’

The long-awaited US strategy which followed a comprehensive review of Afghanistan and South Asia (India and Pakistan) has three essential elements. One, India has been offered a bigger role in nation-building in Afghanistan. Two, Pakistan was upbraided for not cracking down on terrorists’ sanctuaries (Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network) on its soil. And three, the US role has been restricted to counter-terrorism. When asked if the US position had altered on Kashmir as a consequence of close relations between US and India, the US spokesperson, Heather Nauert said that there was no change in US Kashmir policy; it remains limited to encouraging both India and Pakistan to talk.

Within 48 hours of Trump’s announcement, China’s powerful state councillor, Yang Jiechi phoned US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson to say, “We need to give attention to the important role Pakistan is playing in the Afghanistan issue, and respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and security concerns.”

What Yang did not say is that China shared Pakistan’s assessment that more nation-building by India under US security umbrella and supported by the Afghanistan government would result in increased covert and overt anti-Pakistan activities by Indian intelligence agencies from Afghan soil. This assessment, nevertheless, was spelt out by Pakistan’s National Security Council meeting — attended by the three service chiefs and the Prime Minister amongst others — in Islamabad which concluded that Pakistan will take all measures to defend its security concerns. Pakistan’s Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, General Zubair Hayat was, however, more explicit when he said that, “Their (Indian intelligence agencies) designs and oblique actions to sabotage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are also well known.”

Put in simple terms, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) will be energised to work with renewed force on the two fronts: To support the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network to continue targeting the US and Afghan forces, and Indian installations in Afghanistan across the unrecognised Durand line. For instance, at present, the Taliban already controls 10 out of the 14 districts of Helmand province.

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