Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States on 20th January 2017. However, it took his Secretary of Defense eight months to visit Afghanistan. This is the longest it has taken for a top US official to visit Afghanistan since the war. It begs the question, is President Trump putting Afghanistan on the backburner the same way President Bush did? President Trump seems to be more interested in responding to North Korea’s provocations.
Since Donald Trump took office, he has taken input from think tanks and lobbying groups on Afghanistan. Most of these reports suggested that the United States need to get tough on Pakistan. One could argue that these policies outlined by the US President are half-baked, as he announced policies even before a single member of his cabinet visited the region.
The United States should have surely realized by now that a military solution in Afghanistan is not the answer. One hopes that Trump’s team would have assessed the 2014 Kabul-Washington agreement, which state that the US will not fight the Taliban unless they are attacked. This is a clear indication that the Obama administration had realized that a military solution is not the solution.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis visited India and Kabul on his maiden trip to the region. This clearly shows where the Trump administration is at. By aligning itself with India and isolating Pakistan, America is falling into a dangerous trap, as is India. The US have already paid the price for sidelining Pakistan once after the Soviets left Afghanistan. By making allegations against Pakistan, and siding with India, the US runs the risk of further prolonging its stay in Afghanistan. It is high time the US strike a more balanced policy in the region to achieve results. Antagonizing Pakistan is not going to get them anywhere.
Perhaps another reason why Secretary Mattis was in India, could be due to the fact that India wants to modernize its defense equipment. According to a SIRPI 2016 report, India is a massive importer of arms.
As for India, it could be argued that they are biting off more than they can chew. It is evident that India, at this point in history, is loaded with hubris, and their outmoded hegemonic behavior could get them into trouble in Afghanistan. Having India in Afghanistan could be counterproductive because if Taliban and the Islamic State (IS) actually consider India an enemy, that may expose India to these terrorists. That may escalate the Kashmir struggle even more as the presence of IS in India could further internationalize Kashmir.
Pakistan has given a tough response to the US. Pakistan has been calling for a political solution in Afghanistan for years. The Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abassi made it abundantly clear in his speech to the United Nations that Pakistan will no longer be a scapegoat in the Afghan conflict. The Pakistani media also lashed out at Trump’s policies, more out of frustration than anything else. Blaming Pakistan should not come as a surprise, as it has been happening for years.
The problem that Afghanistan has is their unwillingness to give the Taliban political space, as they are weary of the fact that they could actually make serious inroads. It is crucial to remember that the Taliban control almost 60% of Afghanistan, which the present government is well aware of.
As mentioned above, lambasting Pakistan, cozying up to India, and a larger military presence in the region is not the answer. The only way forward is through dialogue with every key player, including India. Donald Trump needs to understand that by isolating Pakistan they will be starting from square one. They now have no choice but to work within a frame work centered on dialogue, which also means bringing the Taliban to the table. This is the only way forward.
Qamar Cheema is Strategic analyst and teaches international politics in NUML Islamabad. email@example.com
by Qamar Cheema