South Asia had its fingers crossed as it waited to hear the new US administrationâ€™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 IndiaÂ was asked to play anÂ overt role, whichÂ itÂ alreadyÂ was doing.
Pakistan has always been asked to do more, but this time it was said in a sterner voice byÂ President Donald Trump. The major question that arises isÂ whether the policy is based on some logic or is justÂ moreÂ face-saving rhetoric with more focusÂ on Pakistan, instead of accepting thatÂ the United States is atÂ the losing end of the 16-year crisis. Trumpâ€™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,Â with no more than a facelift.
The US has always tried to shift blame toward Pakistan, but this timeÂ it was more open about it.Â However, it should realize that it is timeÂ to get some sense and logic and stop scapegoating Islamabad. Pakistan, a major non-NATO ally and a frontline country inÂ Americaâ€™sÂ â€œwar on terrorismâ€, is once again faced withÂ the â€œdo moreâ€ slogan.
It can be seen that the military efforts against the Taliban have failed to achieve the desired results, as the situation on the groundÂ favors them. The Taliban feel that they are winning, and in this case it is difficult for Pakistan to help.Â All IslamabadÂ canÂ 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, IslamabadÂ has categorically said time and againÂ it does not want the war to be fought in Pakistan.Â It has faced consequences of the war as predicted. NowÂ it has cleared its frontiersÂ of terrorists with strong efforts likeÂ Operation Zarb-e-Azb, followed byÂ Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad. Pakistan does not want its territory to be infiltrated by terrorists again,Â so border managementÂ has been initiated.
Pakistan is indeed sincereÂ about bringing peace to the region asÂ it has initiatedÂ fencingÂ alongÂ its borderÂ with Afghanistan. This also proves that Pakistan does not want to provide safe havensÂ for terrorists and does not want infiltrationÂ of its territory.
On the other hand, Afghanistan has opposed the fencingÂ initiative and more checks along the border,Â 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 honestÂ about bringing peace and stabilityÂ to the region as a whole and Afghanistan in particular,Â 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.Â It is essential to bring to notice that each time developments are made toward peace, the process gets jeopardized. Noah CoburnÂ has pointed out in his bookÂ Losing AfghanistanÂ that â€œthere 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.â€
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 upÂ itsÂ field of influence in South Asia. Furthermore,Â after its failure in Iraq, the US does not want to face the same humiliation again.
A political solution is the onlyÂ way to end the Afghan crisis, as bringing troops in and out has so far achieved nothing. TheÂ US knows that it cannot win this battle, but to ensureÂ its presenceÂ it keeps changingÂ its policies here and there while scapegoating Pakistan.
In spite of Islamabadâ€™s efforts, the USÂ continues to blame Pakistan andÂ hold impractical expectationsÂ for Pakistanâ€™s role. But accusing Pakistan will certainly not achieve the desired results. The US must understand that Pakistanâ€™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 negotiationsÂ and military operations against the Taliban has worked.
In 2014Â the US declared withdrawal of its combat mission and slowly phasing outÂ its military operations inÂ Afghanistan.Â It was often quoted as an endgame,Â butÂ once again the US has ordered in more troops. The policy makes no sense.Â The US needs to focusÂ seriouslyÂ on diplomacy involving regional players such as Pakistan, Iran, China and Russia.