Current Affairs

Trump’s Strategy for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Contribution from India

Yatindra Bhatnagar

US President Donald Trump last week outlined his strategy for Afghanistan and how America should view the situation: Not to rebuild the nation but to free it from terrorists. For that he may send quite a few American troops reversing his earlier, campaign promises to completely pull out from that 16-year war-torn country. The President has castigated Pakistan and hope s for a bigger role for India in the country’s peace efforts and economic build-up.

Trump left nothing for Pakistan; he blasted Islamabad, rightly, for harboring and shielding terrorists and not doing anything for the stability in the region. In that he did not have to go far for evidence – it was clear in the infamous case of Osama bin Laden who enjoyed a life of luxury and was given full protection by Pakistani  military whose headquarters were at a stone’s throw from bin Laden’s home.

Besides that, there are numerous terror groups – such as Haqqani - functioning with impunity and raiding across the borders into Indian territories and resorting to cross-fire shelling and killings, all aided and abetted by Pakistan’s military.

Trump has been touting himself as a “problem solver” and he wants to solve the Afghan problem, his way. That, probably, is the only way to reach some kind of conclusion and finale for the American involvement in Afghanistan, starting with ousting the Russians and then freeing the country of the Talibans. That will be a ‘win’ for America, as Trump envisages.

He may be right as no power has been able to entirely defeat Afghanistan and stay there as victors for any length of time since the British tried that two centuries earlier and the Russians some 40 years back. The Talibans had some success later and held vast areas under them for about five years till the Americans and allies drove then out 15 years back.

Now with the connivance of Pakistan many Taliban leaders and other war lords who were given shelter, training and military support by Pakistan have crossed into Afghanistan to exert their influence and sway over at least half of the country. 

Pakistan has never been a reliable partner in the fight against terror in the region and beyond. On the contrary, Islamabad is a fountainhead and a safe haven for terrorists of all shapes, hues and sizes – homegrown or imported. Though Pakistan itself is also a victim of terror attacks, it’s all of Pakistan’s own making – the Talibans and the Haqqani group and all that.

The current Afghan government headed by the President, Ashraf Ghani, elected in 2014, controls only a little more than half of the land. However, the Talibans, with the active association with ISIS has been able to attack at will and inflict damage, kill hundreds and attempt to destabilize the government. The Ghani government is ill-equipped in manpower, military, police and training, lack of development on its own and maintaining law and order.

Trump wants to help Afghanistan with more troops for training and maintenance, hunting down all types of terrorists (Talibans included ) and generally assist the government to become self-reliant. His strategy has not been explained in details but as he said, he doesn’t want to disclose all his plans clearly (for the benefit of the enemies). Generally it will be focused on counter-terrorism with more military influence than diplomatic.

Trump’s praise for India and condemnation of Pakistan had the obvious reaction from both the countries. While India welcomed it, Pakistan was devastated and angry. Its military, the main partner in running the country, rejected Trump’s criticism. May be, Trump has not taken into his strategy the roles of Russia, China and Pakistan itself about shaping a new Afghanistan and the region.

These countries are interested in Afghanistan’s vast natural resources and so is America. The American military goals may be clear, but the strategy is not, at least for now, though Afghan government has welcomed it. 

It is clear on one point that there is no rigid time-table for complete withdrawal of American and allied troops. Trump has confirmed American commitment to Afghanistan that has brightened the hopes of Afghan people and the government and given a stern warning to Pakistan to stop its interference in Kabul.

Trump wants India to step up its role in Afghanistan but outlining what exactly India can, and is willing to, do will not be clear for some time. Moreover, both Pakistan and China – and to some degree Russia – may not be happy with India’s additional involvement that Trump wants.

In any case, what Trump has spoken and indicated has merits and is worth trying with the hope that at least there is a way out for America to honorably end its involvement. Washington, rightly, does not want to give the enemy any indication when the US will leave them alone and free to do whatever they want. [Obama had given a time table that helped the enemy to wait-and-watch and act accordingly as the current situation shows.] The war may go on but the change in strategy may bring some hope and stability in the region if implemented effectively, decisively and thoughtfully despite strong reluctance of Pakistan’s military’s to support any of Trump’s strategic steps for Afghanistan. If America takes steps to drastically reduce its help to Pakistan, it might be replaced by extra Chinese support. China doesn’t want India to score over its strong ally, Pakistan. But that’s the strategy.