Will Trump’s Much Talked Strategy Change South Asia’s Political Landscape?   

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In a rare primetime speech on August 21st night, President Donald Trump cautioned American people against “hasty withdrawal” from Afghanistan. In his first nationally televised speech, Trump outlined a revised strategy for Afghanistan and vowed to win the war in Afghanistan by sending more US troops to the battle field that has pulled on for nearly 16 years.  The war in Afghanistan is already the longest conflict in the US history and as Trump hinted will continue into the “indefinite future”.  He said his new approach would be more pragmatic than idealistic and the focus this time is from nation building to killing terrorists.

Trump’s statement on new Afghan strategy on August 21st night marks a complete U-turn. He was once an ardent advocate of complete US withdrawal.  However, after his 2015 campaign, Trump has been least vocal publicly about how the US can tackle with a 16 – year long conflict.

Previously, Trump was skeptical about sending more troops to Afghanistan.  In an interview with CNN on October 2015, he said the US made a terrible mistake by getting involved in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, a few weeks later, Trump denied he had said that the Afghanistan war was a mistake. Soon after he resumed office as the President of the United States of America, he seemed to have adopted White House way of thinking. He said that the realities of life in the White House make him to change his mind vis a vis Afghanistan.

Addressing at Camp David, Trump said that he has decided three basic conclusions about America’s core interests in Afghanistan. Firstly, the US as a nation “must see an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices” it has made over the years around the world in bringing democracies to various other nations. And American forces who are serving in war torn countries deserve a victory.

Further, his most important point from his renewed Afghan strategy is that a simple withdrawal from Afghanistan as of now will leave the country susceptible to extremists. According to the Donald Trump’s Monday speech, the consequences of a “rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable”.  He termed 9/11 event as the worst in American history. “A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorist, including ISIS and Al Qaeda, would instantly fill just as happened before September 11”. What he hinted was, he won’t commit the same mistake as was done by his predecessors. He pointed the “America hastily and mistakenly” withdrew from Iraq”, which gave access to the enemies. With the premature departure from Iraq, success slipped back into the hands of terrorists and the void created by the US’s early departure provided the safe haven for ISIS and other extremist outfits to expand their geographical reach, growth and conduct armed assaults in Iraq.

In his last inference, Trump pointed out the security threat the US and the allies face in Afghanistan and the broader region, are immense. He very directly cautioned Pakistan of harboring terrorists and extremists. He made his strategy clear. He said, “We must stop the resurgence of safe havens that enable terrorists to threaten America”.

His speech reveals his renewed American strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia which is likely to change radically in near future.  The fundamental part of his new strategy is a shift from time-based approach to an approach based on ground conditions. Also, he made it clear that he isn’t going to reveal the number of troops or military activities, however, conditions on the ground will determine the plan of action and the number of resources to be sent to Afghanistan.

In endorsing his renewed Afghan strategy, Trump called for support from NATO allies, Pakistan and Afghanistan government. He affirmed his support for the Afghan government and the military as they are fighting Taliban in the field. But, he said, “It is up to the people of Afghanistan to take ownership of their future, to govern their society and to achieve an ever-lasting peace”.  At present, there are up to 585 British and 8,400 American troops already stationed in Afghanistan.

Moreover, he said that the main pillar of his strategy is the integration of all instruments of American power whether diplomatic, economic or military towards an effective outcome. Trump, however, announced a strategy regarding Pakistan. He said he is cognizant of Pakistan’s support for terrorists.  Trump vehemently said that the US can’t be mute about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorists – the Taliban and other groups that pose a threat to the region.  Elucidating on Pakistan’s role, Trump said that Pakistan has much to benefit from teaming up with efforts in Afghanistan, but it has much to lose if Pakistan continues supporting terrorists or don’t comply with the US. His forceful words were a direct warning to Pakistan. Such a tactic uncovers Trump’s approach in dealing with South Asia.

It is obvious from Trump’s speech that a very crucial part of the South Asia strategy for America is to develop the strategic partnership with India. Appreciating India on her role in Afghanistan, Trump said he wants India to help the US in the areas of economic assistance and development in Afghanistan. India is a close ally of the Afghan government and thus far it has restricted its assistance to economic and humanitarian aid, including $1 billion packages in 2016.  The major concern for Indian right now is the situation in Doklam and Kashmir and in this context, India is least concerned about the number of troops to be sent to Afghanistan under revised Afghan strategy.

Conversely, Indian involvement in Afghanistan is likely to agitate Pakistan which is allergic to growing Indian influence in Afghan and its Western borders.  At the same time, increased Indian interest in Afghanistan will make Pakistan anxious. This hate triangle will create more problems for Afghanistan and the US according to the analysts. A renowned Pakistani journalist, Rahimullah Yusufzai warned that increased tensions in South Asia could harm peace efforts.

Besides, Trump’s strategy for Afghanistan has been praised & applauded by the Afghan authorities. They seem to be very pleased for increasing number of troops and building up pressure on Pakistan which Afghan government sees key sponsor of the insurgency.  Also, Trump’s strong words on Pakistan gave some breather for Afghanistan. According to a Kabul based analyst, Ahmad Saeedi, Afghanistan has to wait for Pakistan’s reaction, since Pakistan has nuclear capability and is a close ally of China.

On the contrary, Pakistan has accused the Trump of shifting blame for its failures in the war against the Taliban and other militant groups in Afghanistan on Pakistan. In response to Trump’s line on Pakistan, Naeem Khalid Lodhi, a defense analyst said it is the US who has to blame for its failure in Afghanistan and not Pakistan.

This blame game by the US will further sour relations between Islamabad and Washington. “Pakistan should not remain silent against such US behaviour”. Rather Pakistan should concentrate on building new political and strategical alliances with emerging powers like Russia and China.

Pakistan has consistently denied that it operates a “good terrorist, bad terrorist” policy. Given the policy overtures, Pakistan has grown increasingly close to China and has already millions of dollars of the US aid withheld for not taking much action against Taliban and other terrorists groups.

It is unlikely to predict the fallout of new “fight to win” strategy in Afghanistan and its repercussion on Pakistan. Time will tell how Trump’s much talked strategy will change South Asian landscape.

The author is an Associate Editor With The Legitimate 

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