Realities surrounding Afghanistan

Sankar Ray

US President Donald Trump’s ‘new Afghanistan policy’ has been hailed by the ruling group in Afghanistan, especially Trump’s nod to sending additional troops, apparently in keeping with the Afghan government’s perspective as its goal is to step up increased pressure on the Taliban. But the belligerent shah-en-shah of White House also pulled up Pakistan by routinely blaming the latter for its failure to wage a decisive counter-warfare against the terrorists, ideologically committed to ‘Political Islam’, although turning terrorism into a money-spinning scrip. What is disturbing for peace-loving sections of both India and Pakistan is the unprecedented praise for India. Trump diplomatically seeks India’s as
sistance in Afghanistan, although on economic matters in the main.
Not at all queer, when US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who described Trump as ‘a moron’ (although backed down to deny subsequently) reached Islamabad on 24 October, he was received by middle-of-the rung officials of the Pak foreign ministry. And in contrast, the Indian PM is ahead of many in appeasing the top guys of Trump administration, let alone the power-crazy supremo at the helm there.
Noted Pak columnist Ayyaz Ahmed, known for his intrepid and acerbic tone and style, wrote expressing concern over the upside-down change in Pak-US-India equation: “The deepening Indo-US ties have instigated Washington to adopt an unfriendly posture towards Pakistan. It has blamed Islamabad for providing sanctuaries to the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban within Pakistan. What the US has forgotten is that the Taliban already exercises sway over 40 percent of Afghan territory and they do not need Pakistan’s sanctuaries to hide and regroup themselves. The reality is that the US has virtually lost the costly and long-drawn-out war in Afghanistan and now wants to shift the blame on Pakistan for secretively harbouring the Afghan Taliban”.
There is no denying that Trump refuses to note Pakistan’s claim of having full control of the seven tribal agencies inside Pakistan and keeps playing a broken gramophone record blaming Islamabad for providing safe havens to the Haqqani network in his speech on South Asia on 21 August that widened “the trust deficit between both countries, thereby bringing Pak-US relations to a nadir. Notwithstanding President Trump’s harsh language, Pakistan took the initiative to thaw the strained relations with the angry superpower”. Apparently, visits of Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to the USA in September melted the ice, as there were bilateral exchange of perceptions about combating terrorism and militancy in the Pak-Afghan region. But the era of camaraderie that reached the zenith during the regime of the President Jimmy Carter with Zbigniew Brezezinsky as the National Security Adviser is now almost a thing of the past.
The need for greater US-Pak cooperation for stamping out regionally-funded terrorists from the Pak-Afghan region towards stablisation of the Afghan government for speeding up the socio-economic reconstruction of the insurgency-torn country notwithstanding, Washington continues its recalcitrance to understand the new reality, based on the steadily growing support among Pak people for peace with India as a neighbour. But this obstinacy, some analysts fear, may lead to a diplomatic disaster affecting not only the three south Asian countries, but the US too. At the same time, Ahmed rightly notes, “Islamabad should revisit some fundamental rules of its engagement with Washington. If Pakistan avoids changing these rules, the US will continue to enjoy an upper hand in determining the nature and direction of bilateral relations”.
Expectations are high that the new US Afghan policy will turn the tide of war and put the Taliban on the defensive. Nevertheless, Trump is the trouble-shooter for the tri-national region. He keeps directly reversing his predecessor Barack Obama’s policy of gradual withdrawal of troops from the Afghan soil – a difficult but indispensable task. Obama announced his intention in 2009, but could do little to translate it, despite the reality that more and more Afghans were getting annoyed with the Taliban even in tribal areas at a distance from Kabul. At one point in 2010, Afghanistan was home to 150,000 foreign troops, of which nearly 100,000 were from the US. Several Pak commentators, who openly argue for friendship with India and ending bad blood with Afghanistan, are pessimistic after the coming to power of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister.
One never knows when Trump and his close associates will understand that leaving out major stakeholders in the Afghan conflict will only make things worse. For instance, there is a genuine concern over reports that Taliban receives military assistance from Iran. Lately, Taliban has also established contacts with Russia. As a counter-offensive to the US Afghan policy, Iran may harbour Taliban. Whether Russia discreetly helps them with financial and military assistance is a matter of guess as Moscow will not leave any opportunity to take revenge for the humiliating retreat from Afghanistan during Carter-Brezezinsky years. In both Iran and Russia, speculations are running high that the Islamic State (IS) militant group is a creation of the US. It is not unusual for the two countries to join hands to prop up Taliban as a balance against it.
Given this reality, Washington has to realise the need to work towards an ambience of amity in the Indo-Pak-Afghan region. Pak Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, speaking at the concluding session of the Pakistan Motor Rally 2017, said: “The motor rally is a vindication of Pakistan’s progress towards peace and stability. Every Pakistani from Khunjerab to Gwadar is committed to peace and progress of the country.” Pakistanis are ‘a resilient peace and sports-loving nation that is bound to rise despite all challenges,” a statement issued by the military’s media wing said about a week back. But such anti-war expressions from his counterpart in India seems a wishful thinking. (IPA)

Monday, 6 November, 2017