President Trump’s long-awaited strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia has finally been announced. But it has grave implications for Afghanistan. While there is some clarity on the US stance vis-a-vis Pakistan and its safe havens for the “agents of chaos”, the new US strategy will widen the war and cause more death and destruction in Afghanistan.
The new policy does not reflect any lessons learned from the serious errors pertaining to the protection of human lives. Therefore, such a policy must be stopped from further damaging and condemning Afghanistan to an endless war.
Intensifying war, increasing terrorism
The new US strategy for Afghanistan will intensify military operations, placing the impact of the Afghan war squarely upon the people. By lifting “restrictions” and expanding the “authority” of American armed forces in fighting the war, masses of Afghans will fall victim to it.
Under the guise of targeting “terrorists”, people will not be secure in their own homes and villages as that is where the war will eventually be fought. The rhetoric that claims terrorists will have “nowhere to hide” and that “no place is beyond the reach of American might and American arms” gives US forces a free hand in conducting military operations anywhere they deem necessary.
“Retribution will be fast and powerful,” said President Trump. I see this as the US stepping up the use of airpower against targets on Afghan soil. The increase in the number of drone strikes and the testing of the MOAB in Nangarhar province early this year are the clear signs of a new strategy in favour of intensified and large-scale bombings. It will undoubtedly inflict massive damage to civilians and consequently, incite more hatred and violence. The end result will be to trap foreign forces alongside their Afghan counterparts in a long unwinnable war within Afghanistan for many years to come.
According to President Trump, the new US strategy will be guided by “conditions on the ground” in Afghanistan. This gives Washington, particularly the Pentagon, flexibility to change the nature and scope of its military presence and activities in the country, leaving American generals solely in charge of an open-ended war. It is a clear militarization of the US-Afghan policy.
The US is the impediment to peace
On a political settlement with the Afghan Taliban, Washington seems to have no desire in supporting peace in Afghanistan.
“Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban and Afghanistan, but nobody knows if or when that will ever happen,” said President Trump.
The conclusion we can draw is that the Taliban are – like in the past – not an enemy for the US. When it comes to fighting them in Afghanistan, it will only be limited to “preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan.” The word “preventing” is lightweight in comparison to “obliterating ISIS” or “crushing Al Qaeda” as seen in recent remarks by the US president. The US administration’s continued unwillingness to embrace peace is making it the prime impediment to peace efforts in Afghanistan.
Changing the status quo on Pakistan
On Pakistan and India, President Trump has changed the old status quo. In an unprecedented tone, the US president stated that “Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror” and that the US “can no longer be silent” about it.
The message to Islamabad was clear: the US “must stop the resurgence of safe havens that enable terrorists to threaten America.”
Official US reports have previously revealed that the Pakistanis have been “worried the US will drop in and take their nukes.”
In his remarks, President Trump said yesterday, “we must prevent nuclear weapons and materials from coming into the hands of terrorists and being used against us anywhere in the world.” Trump’s recent statement adds to the already existing fears in Pakistan about a possible US plot against its nukes.
Praising India for its “important contribution” in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and asking India to “help” the US in Afghanistan is another shock for Pakistan in more ways than one.
There is no doubt that India has been steadfast in its support for the state of Afghanistan. However, previous US administrations wearily supported New Delhi’s role in Afghanistan. Former president Obama had personally asked the former Afghan president Hamid Karzai to address Islamabad’s “concerns” over Indian influence in Afghanistan.
For Obama, Pakistan was a “strategic ally” and the two countries were sharing “a common enemy.” Now, with a radical shift in Washington’s strategy, only time will tell us how the current US president will turn its words into actions.
Major American objectives in the region are facilitated through the Pakistani military establishment – and therefore Washington will have to keep Pakistan within its sphere of influence.
Referring to security threats in South Asia, President Trump did not explain the very harsh reality behind the rise of terrorism in Afghanistan. Why after a 16-year “War on Terror” by the US and its NATO allies, is the “highest concentration” of foreign terrorists organisations still in Afghanistan and the region? The answer is simple: it is a direct result of US military actions.
In order to maintain peace, it is imperative for the US to commit itself to building cooperative diplomatic and political solutions. Except India, the new US policy in South Asia will have no supporters in the region. Washington should embrace regional cooperation. Or else, the new US policy for Afghanistan is the continuation of the invasion, occupation and empire.
A strategy solely focused on “killing terrorists” defined by the US military, without including plans for the protection of human lives, peace building and nation building, is going to fail terribly and deplorably.