President Trump strategic plan for Afghanistan is not really a plan but a confirmation that America is isolated and confused about its next steps in Afghanistan. He spoke like a leader of a declining power that is refusing to accept the reality of its failure. His NATO allies are hesitant to commit themselves any longer to Afghanistan in the absence of an exit plan and a political solution. To compensate for the loss of support from NATO, Trump administration is now looking towards India to come to the plate and bear the burden. In return for this support, they are willing to help put economic, security and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan. Can this pressure result in Balkanization of Pakistan? India has always been interested in that outcome. This expansion of the war to Pakistan despite having setbacks in Afghanistan would destabilize all of South Asia. India cannot expect to remain stable and prosperous when the region is destabilized.
American decision to stay in Afghanistan does not have majority support in the country as reported by Washington Post but interestingly it has support among Trump’s base. This means that Trump ignored the voice of the majority and decided to appease his base by taking a u-turn on his campaign rhetoric to get out of Afghanistan. This should be concerning for NATO members and other allies.
Europe should seek resolution of Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan crisis rather than prolong it any further and allow American bravado to continue without a clear path. Europe should be concerned because they will be the ones becoming more insecure as evidenced by increased terrorist activities in their cities. These terror incidents have roots in the destabilization of Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan because of the American invasion.
Puppet government in Kabul does not enjoy the mandate of Afghan people and was installed through a deal brokered by former Secretary of State John Kerry. This lack of legitimacy is one of the main reason for the continued decline of its control over territory. Afghan Taliban are not terrorists but an indigenous movement to seek the liberation of their country from a foreign occupier. Without accepting this political reality there can be no peace in Afghanistan. President Trump accepts that reality but in ambiguous terms. Iran and Russia now consider Afghan Taliban a counter force to the rise of Islamic State (IS). They are willing to support them to contain the rise of IS in their backyard. Will America then expand its war to Iran and Russia if they continue facing military setbacks in Afghanistan?
It is now clear that General Musharaf, to seek international legitimacy for his martial law government, has inflicted a lot of damage on the country. By allying with the United States to become a front-line state in the war on terror, we have lost a considerable number of people and incur an economic loss without being recognized as a reliable partner. The mess created by Gen Musharraf is expected to be cleaned by civilian governments. This is only possible if there are complete trust and confidence between civ-mil.
Pakistan should take following actions immediately:
1. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif should postpone his visit to Washington until consultations are held with China, Russia, and Iran. He should visit these countries first before visiting America.
2. Pakistan should reach out to European Union (EU) countries especially Germany and France to develop an understanding of a road map to solve the Afghan crisis.
3. Pakistan should request a special session of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to discuss the regional security environment in the aftermath of American decision not to pull out from Afghanistan. SCO members should ensure mutual security and regional stability.
4. Pakistan should seek a special debate in the UN Security Council on the new American strategy in Afghanistan and seek assurances that this will not destabilize the South Asian region.
PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi should convene meetings with all political parties and intellectuals to discuss options available to Pakistan and to deal with an aggressive posture adopted by the United States.
By Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi