South Asia had its fingers crossed as it waited to hear the new US administration’s policy on the region, which usually revolves around the never-ending dilemma that is Afghanistan. However, once it was finally announced on August 21, the much-anticipated policy had nothing new in it; more troops were to be inserted in Afghanistan and India was asked to play an overt role, which it already was doing.
Pakistan has always been asked to do more, but this time it was said in a sterner voice by President Donald Trump. The major question that arises is whether the policy is based on some logic or is just more face-saving rhetoric with more focus on Pakistan, instead of accepting that the United States is at the losing end of the 16-year crisis. Trump’s August speech on Afghanistan was not noteworthy for new ideas, as there was not much new to be found; instead, it was keen to hit the tired old themes, with no more than a facelift.
The US has always tried to shift blame toward Pakistan, but this time it was more open about it. However, it should realize that it is time to get some sense and logic and stop scapegoating Islamabad. Pakistan, a major non-NATO ally and a frontline country in America’s “war on terrorism”, is once again faced with the “do more” slogan.
It can be seen that the military efforts against the Taliban have failed to achieve the desired results, as the situation on the ground favors them. The Taliban feel that they are winning, and in this case it is difficult for Pakistan to help. All Islamabad can do is help bring them to the table for talks.
After it agreed to support US efforts in the wake of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, Islamabad has categorically said time and again it does not want the war to be fought in Pakistan. It has faced consequences of the war as predicted. Now it has cleared its frontiers of terrorists with strong efforts like Operation Zarb-e-Azb, followed by Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad. Pakistan does not want its territory to be infiltrated by terrorists again, so border management has been initiated.
Pakistan is indeed sincere about bringing peace to the region as it has initiated fencing along its border with Afghanistan. This also proves that Pakistan does not want to provide safe havens for terrorists and does not want infiltration of its territory.
On the other hand, Afghanistan has opposed the fencing initiative and more checks along the border, which clearly shows who is at the fault. If the fencing is done and more checkpoints are built, this will easily end the blame game. So if the US is honest about bringing peace and stability to the region as a whole and Afghanistan in particular, it should support the border management initiated by Pakistan.
Pakistan has always facilitated the peace process but it has been sabotaged by some external forces. It is essential to bring to notice that each time developments are made toward peace, the process gets jeopardized. Noah Coburn has pointed out in his book Losing Afghanistan that “there are individuals and groups who have benefited (financially as well as politically) from the US intervention. These beneficiaries will continue to use and justify violence to maintain their positions.”
Maybe the US does not want the war to end, as leaving Afghanistan would mean that the Americans are giving up their presence and interests in South Asia and giving China an open space in which to play. India has been used as an American proxy, but with China coming out as a strong leader in Asia, it is not in the interests of the US to give up its field of influence in South Asia. Furthermore, after its failure in Iraq, the US does not want to face the same humiliation again.
A political solution is the only way to end the Afghan crisis, as bringing troops in and out has so far achieved nothing. The US knows that it cannot win this battle, but to ensure its presence it keeps changing its policies here and there while scapegoating Pakistan.
In spite of Islamabad’s efforts, the US continues to blame Pakistan and hold impractical expectations for Pakistan’s role. But accusing Pakistan will certainly not achieve the desired results. The US must understand that Pakistan’s role is limited to supporting the peace process; reaching out and reconciling with the Taliban is a matter of Afghan and US prerogative and consensus.
Afghanistan is an unending impasse with global actors unwilling to give up their roles therein. Neither element of the US dual policy of negotiations and military operations against the Taliban has worked.
In 2014 the US declared withdrawal of its combat mission and slowly phasing out its military operations in Afghanistan. It was often quoted as an endgame, but once again the US has ordered in more troops. The policy makes no sense. The US needs to focus seriously on diplomacy involving regional players such as Pakistan, Iran, China and Russia.