The much anticipated US Afghan policy was finally announced earlier this week. Many believe that the ‘new’ policy is nothing more than a recycled plan – which at best could preserve the status quo and likely keep the war ongoing.
Deviating from former stances, the current president calls his approach ‘condition based’ as opposed to ‘time based’. Translating to: ‘the US will only leave when it considers the Afghan security conditions stable’. Trump, while indicating indefinite support to the Afghan government has also warned them not to treat the US like a blank cheque. Though, this warning is unlikely to create any fruitful changes. The US reliance on a set of criminals to tackle the insurgents has entrenched a deep rooted nexus of corruption in Afghanistan, that has only led to more deterioration of security. So, with the current prioritized aim of eliminating the insurgent forces , it is unlikely that the US will be able to effectively inculcate reforms in the same leaders that are providing it with a support base. Thereby, essentially keeping the core Afghan problems unresolved and perpetual.
A second key point that Trump enunciated was that Pakistan needs to stop providing the so called sanctuaries to certain groups. The stance is both counterproductive and counterintuitive. It largely positions Pakistan as a scapegoat for US and Afghan failures. Pakistan in the recent past has hosted US politicians and military delegations to conflict zones in its territory in order to highlight its effective counter terror efforts. Furthermore, with each quarterly SIGAR report discussing the burgeoning gains of the insurgent forces within Afghanistan and US military leadership repeatedly discussing the regional support Taliban has amassed, it is illogical to hold Pakistan responsible. The US so far, has indicated using two key leverages it has against Pakistan: 1. Its India centric security anxieties 2. The economic predicaments of Pakistan.
The current US Afghan policy has received little regional support.
Iran has called the US policies as ‘destabilizing’, the Iranians suspect the US of plotting for a regime change in their country under the guise of this prolonged stay in Afghanistan. Especially since the state department a few months back officially supported such a vision.
China, also views the strategy as unproductive, especially since during the recent SCO summit Xi Jinping categorically termed any military solution for Afghanistan as useless. China also suspects the US of pumping up India against it.
The Russian foreign minister called the new US Afghan policy as regrettable. Russia for several years has been a harsh critic of US regional policies, they blame the US for the spread of IS in the region and the regional drug epidemic.
So far, it is the Afghan government and the Indian government that appears overjoyed by the US policy. Despite, Pakistan’s recent overtures to Afghanistan, their official stance quickly changed in the wake of the policy announcement and commended Trump for discussing the Pakistan factor.
Nonetheless, the situation for Pakistan is challenging. It needs to carefully assess its own weaknesses and strengths, converge with the regional players to discuss regional security and at the same time not turn a blind eye to possible opportunities that may emerge from US troop surge in Afghanistan, keeping in view its own long term national interests.