Insights into Editorial: New strategy, old game: on Trump and Afghanistan
Afghanistan is experiencing political, social and security instability, with extremists taking advantage of the turmoil in the country. The United States and its allies launched a military operation in Afghanistan in 2001, just after the 9/11 terror attacks. The mission in Afghanistan ended in 2014.
On January 1, 2015, NATO announced its new mission in the country, called Resolute Support, to train and assist the Afghan security forces. Despite Washington’s efforts, the Asian state is still being hit by multiple attacks against its civilians and military targets.
“As President, my greatest responsibility is to protect the American people, we are not in Afghanistan to control that country or to dictate its future,” said the President of the United States in 2009, announcing a “regional strategy” for Afghanistan after the worst year of the conflict.
On August 21, this year when President of United States unveiled his new “regional strategy” for Afghanistan, it was in large part a reiteration of the above speech in terms of strategic objectives. By now 2016 has become the worst year of the conflict.
Earlier US strategy on Afghanistan
Key templates of previous US president’s strategy:
- Establishment of permanent US military bases in Afghanistan.
- Drawdown but not total withdrawal of American troops.
- Periodical review of troop levels.
- Rejection of outright Taliban takeover.
- Willingness to negotiate a settlement with the Taliban but from a position of advantage.
- Termination of the combat mission but with flexible terms of engagement to meet emergent security challenges.
- Incremental reliance on the Afghan forces.
- Training and capacity-building of the Afghan forces.
- Pressure on Pakistan to shut down “safe havens” and crack down on the Haqqani Network.
- Robust support to the Afghan National Unity Government.
Different international conferences on Afghanistan issue
- Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process
The Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process was established to provide a platform to discuss regional issues, particularly encouraging security, political, and economic cooperation among Afghanistan and its neighbours. This region-led dialogue was launched in November 2011 to expand practical coordination between Afghanistan and its neighbours and regional partners in facing common threats, including counterterrorism, counternarcotic, poverty, and extremism. The United States and over 20 other nations and organizations serve as “supporting nations” to the process.
6th Ministerial Conference of Heart of Asia summit was held in Amritsar, India:
Amritsar Declaration: Highlights
Terrorism, particularly, state-sponsored terrorism was identified as a key challenge and members agreed upon a concerted effort to dismantle all kinds of terrorism. The regional meet unanimously named Terrorist groups in Pakistan and asked for action.
- Members reiterated their belief in principles of sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, sovereign equality of nations as enshrined in the United Nations Charter.
- Members expressed their commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Members called up for leveraging the cultural heritage of the region to drive economic and social development.
- Members consented on eliminating non-tariff barriers to trade.
- Tokyo Conference
The Afghan Government and the International Community met on July 8, 2012 in Tokyo to reaffirm and further consolidate their partnership from Transition to the Transformation Decade. The Tokyo Conference, together with the Chicago Summit of Afghanistan and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) contributing countries, established a renewed stronger foundation for partnership to support sustainable growth and development of Afghanistan throughout the Transformation Decade (2015-2024).
These undertakings are built on the outcome of the Bonn Conference in December 2011, where the Afghan Government and the International Community mutually renewed their long-term commitments in the areas of governance, security, peace process, economic and social development, and regional cooperation.
- Chaired by the Japanese and Afghan Governments with the participation of ministers and representatives from 55 countries and 25 international and other organizations from around the world, today’s conference also recognized the increasing roles of new partners and neighbouring and regional countries for the sustainable development of Afghanistan.
- The Participants reaffirmed their respect for the sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity and independence of Afghanistan
- Tokyo international conference for development and economic stability of Afghanistan ended on 8thJuly 2012 with International donors pledges to assists $16 billion aid for Afghanistan over the next four years.
Since the landmark Tokyo Conference of January 2012, with the steadfast and strong support of the International Community, financial and otherwise, Afghanistan has achieved substantial development and made notable progress in many fields of development, including education, health, roads, electricity, and telecommunication.
However, much remains to be done to realize the aspirations of the Afghan people for a peaceful, stable and self-sustaining Afghanistan.
India’s role in Afghanistan and significance of Afghanistan to India
“Your immediate neighbour is your enemy and the neighbour of your neighbour is your best friend.”
For India its main importance is its proximity to Afghanistan. Apart from that Afghanistan doesn’t share a cordial relationship with Pakistan which plays right into India’s hands. India also has a lot of investment in the country. Many infrastructure projects are carried out by Indian corporations.
- Afghanistan has an estimated 1 trillion USD of untapped resources according to a joint report of The Pentagon and US Geological Survey. If these resources get in the wrong hands, it can be disastrous. That is the reason behind not mining them in an unstable government regime. Afghanistan stability is in the best interest of the stability of India.
- Afghanistan is our gateway to central Asia, which is a reservoir of energy resources. The TAPI(Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline passes through Afghanistan. Securing Afghanistan will result securing India’s energy requirements.
- In case of trade, Afghanistan can help India export its products to Europe, gaining foreign exchange. The Chabahar port in Iran and the railway line from Chabahar to Zahedan in Afghanistan envisages connecting New Delhi with Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia and Europe.
- Afghanistan is in the initial stages of nation building. India can transfer its expertise in order to gain a trusted friend. The Salma Dam renamed as friendship dam, the Afghanistan Parliament that India has built are some welcome steps in this direction.
The importance of Afghanistan is multi-dimensional. It is geo strategic, energy guarantor as well as economical. Also, India understands that a peaceful Afghanistan will help in a peaceful India and South Asia in a world which is threatening to break into a war anytime.
How could be changed US strategy a game changer?
The core goal of the U.S. must be to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda and its safe havens in Pakistan, and to prevent their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan.
The White House is calling its strategy a South Asia policy, to distinguish it from the Obama administration’s so-called Af-Pak policy. Officials said it would include diplomacy with Pakistan, India and even Iran, a nation that American diplomats cooperated with during the early months of the Afghan war but that the White House now sees as a bitter foe.
The most important reason for Afghanistan’s failure to stabilise has been the uncertainty around security. US President’s announcement of military commitment without a deadline in Afghanistan could be a game changer. This may allow creating a culture of peace, to build institutions and improve delivery of public services.
Not announcing a timeline is wise strategy. Withdrawal would have been unwise. Significant scaling up of American troops would also have been unwise. It is hard to fundamentally change the balance of power without a large number of forces there for ever.
President’s declaration that the U.S. would go after terrorists has already made a difference on the ground in Afghanistan. More than the number of American boots on the ground, the nature and quality of America’s military presence has changed, and this could make a difference.
- It puts more pressure on Pakistan
President singled out “valued partner” Pakistan for increased American pressure to act against “agents of chaos” such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network who attack American service members and officials.
The most tangible measure against Pakistan is that the administration decided to keep $255 million in military assistance to Pakistan in suspension until Islamabad demonstrates action against terrorist groups. This was earmarked in the U.S. budget for 2017. In July, Defence Secretary did not provide certification that Pakistan was taking action against the Haqqani network, and held back $50 million from reimbursements to Pakistan for logistical support for the war in Afghanistan.
Though the new President spoke tough on Pakistan, it is still unclear what could be the tough measures. Pakistan should make the best use of Afghanistan’s economic potential as Afghanistan has good relations with the countries on the north, west and south. New trade routes and opportunities are opening up and Pakistan has a lot to gain from it all.
- Larger role to be played by India
In June, the Pentagon’s half-yearly report on the situation in Afghanistan described India as “Afghanistan’s most reliable regional partner”.
In his new strategy, US president called upon India to play a larger role. USA would like India to help in working with Afghanistan’s domestic factions in widening and buttressing the political legitimacy of the current government, and helping it improve its governance. He also sought India’s help in Afghanistan while ignoring the increased Iranian and Russian involvement in helping the Afghan Taliban.
India needs to create a positive view in the country about Afghanistan so that the private sector understands the economic opportunity in Afghanistan. India has been self-restrained — “for good reasons” — in its role in Afghanistan, though from 2012 onwards US administration was open to New Delhi playing any role that it could agree with the Afghan government. There is value in signalling that the U.S. sees India as a critical partner for Afghanistan.
This is a continuation of U.S. policy under Previous President: “The current administration has spoken more clearly and more directly about safe havens, not only for Afghan-focussed groups but also for Indian-focussed groups.
Criticism against New Strategy:
- The President of US was widely expected to announce a troop surge but instead offered a number of vague details that include authorizing more power to “target the terrorist and criminal networks that sow violence and chaos throughout Afghanistan.”
- New strategy in Afghanistan is aimed at preserving and strengthening the American presence in this country.
- They [the US] will increase their contingent and strengthen their presence in Afghanistan in connection with a new policy towards Iran, Pakistan, India and China. They will use Afghanistan as its base.
- Washington’s new strategy on Afghanistan indicates that the war in this South Asian country will show no sign of abating and that the Taliban will expand their influence.
Announcing its new Afghan strategy, America is entering a new stage in the fight against war and violence in Afghanistan. The past few years have seen many international conferences and meetings on Afghanistan but they failed to meet expectations. The goal of new strategy is to put an end to the war in Afghanistan. Any solution to the Afghan problem must be regional.
- The advisers would call in air and artillery, which would enable the United States to expand its firepower on behalf of Afghan forces. That would more closely resemble what American forces are doing in Iraq and Syria to fight the Islamic State.
- Need to tie US strategy in Afghanistan to a much broader strategy for both counterterrorism and regional security. Any strategy for the Afghan war needs to be part of a broad strategy to deal with both the threat posed by global Jihadist international terrorism, and the need for regional security as it affects the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia, and Southwest Asia and the Gulf.
- A valid Afghan strategy cannot be separate from what happens in Pakistan. Afghanistan and Pakistan are so different that the US must effectively coordinate two different strategies to achieve common ends. At the same time, it is clear that Afghanistan’s future will play a critical role in defining Pakistan’s security and vice versa.
Current President said that it would be “possible” to eventually negotiate a political settlement with the Taliban, even though previous administrations had said that the US would never negotiate with terrorists. He noted the importance of cooperating with the governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan and India in order to bring stability to the region.
He wants New Delhi to assist with diplomatic and economic measures against terrorist forces in the region, particularly by pressuring Islamabad to decrease cooperation with terror groups.
There require all strategies to have detailed plans and schedules for implementations, and credible measures of effectiveness. Focus on real-world plans to increase Afghan security forces and their effectiveness, and the level of US military mentors, trainers, and partners necessary to make them effective.