Trump's Afghan Strategy: Will Pakistan Yield to US Pressure?
Will Trump's pressure on Pakistan work? Will Pakistanis do the bidding of the new US administration? To answer this question, let us look at the following two quotes:
1. "The Pakistani establishment, as we saw in 1998 with the nuclear test, does not view assistance -- even sizable assistance to their own entities -- as a trade-off for national security vis-a-vis India". US Ambassador Anne Patterson, September 23, 2009
2. “Pakistan knows it can outstare the West." Pakistani Nuclear Scientist Pervez Hoodbhoy, May 15, 2011
Pakistan is much less reliant on US assistance now than it was when the above statements were made. If anything, the Trump administration has less leverage with Pakistan today than its predecessors did back in 1990s and 2000s.
Iran and Russia in Afghanistan:
While Trump is singling out Pakistan as the main culprit for US failures in Afghanistan, the ground reality has substantially changed with the emergence of ISIS and increased Iranian and Russian involvement in helping the Afghan Taliban. Both see the Afghan Taliban as allies in fighting their common enemy ISIS in Afghanistan.
Russia's Ambassador at large for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov has described the Afghan Taliban as a “predominantly a national military-political movement”. “It is local, Afghanistan-based. They believe that they should have, from their perspective, fair share in the government of Afghanistan…They should talk and deal in their local context”. But Daesh (ISIS) “as an international organization is really dangerous”. “If you recall, young Taliban under the influence of Al-Qaeda in 1994, their rhetoric was very similar to today’s Daesh rhetoric”.
1. Moscow now believes that the presence of ISIS (Daesh) in Afghanistan is a much bigger threat to Russia's soft underbelly in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.
2. The Afghan Taliban are an effective force to check the growth and spread of ISIS in Central and South Asian nations.
3. Pakistan's cooperation is critical to help defeat ISIS in the region.
Pakistan's fears about India waging proxy war in Pakistan via Afghanistan are further reinforced by a 2013 speech by India's current National Security Advisor Ajit Doval in which he talked about about "Pakistan's vulnerabilities" to terrorism and India's ability to take advantage of it. Here are some excerpts of his speech at Sastra University:
"How do you tackle Pakistan?.....We start working on Pakistan's vulnerabilities-- economic, internal security, political, isolating them internationally, it can be anything..... it can be defeating Pakistan's policies in Afghanistan...... You stop the terrorists by denying them weapons, funds and manpower. Deny them funds by countering with one-and-a-half times more funding. If they have 1200 crores give them 1800 crores and they are on our side...who are the Taliban fighting for? It's because they haven't got jobs or someone has misled them. The Taliban are mercenaries. So go for more of the covert thing (against Pakistan)..." Ajit Doval, India's National Security Advisor
Pakistan's Support of the Afghan Taliban:
General David Petraeus, former CIA director and commander of US troops in Afghanistan, has said there is no evidence of Pakistan playing a double game and supporting terrorists in Afghanistan. He was answering a question posed to him at a presentation at Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a British security think tank based in London.
Gen Petraeus did acknowledge that "there's communication between the ISI and various militant groups in FATA and Balochistan (Haqqanis, Taliban, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, etc) but some of it you'd do anyway as an intelligence service." He added that "there may be some degree of accommodation that is forced on them (Pakistanis) because of the limits of their (Pakistan's) forces."
The Way Forward:
A hasty US exit from Afghanistan is not imminent. The United States needs Pakistan to help stabilize Afghanistan. But how can this be achieved? Can increased US pressure on Pakistan elicit cooperation? Can US partnership with India do the trick? In my view, neither will work. What will work is an understanding of Pakistan's legitimate concerns in Afghanistan.
What are Pakistan's legitimate interests in Afghanistan? The answer is: Pakistan's national security interest in stopping the use of the Afghan territory to launch attacks against it. Any solution to the Afghan problem has to include firm guarantees that India or any other country will be denied the use of Afghan territory and various militant groups to destabilize Pakistan.
The US must understand there can be no stability in Afghanistan if Pakistan feels insecure. The US also needs to acknowledge that an unstable nuclear-armed Pakistan will pose a far bigger threat than any threat emanating from Afghanistan.
Trump's new Afghan strategy of increasing troop levels and ratcheting up the pressure on Pakistan will not work as long as Pakistan sees its vital national security interests threatened by India's proxy war being waged against it from the Afghan soil. Any solution to the Afghan problem must be regional. It has to include firm guarantees that India or any other country will be denied the use of Afghan territory to destabilize Pakistan. The US must understand there can be no stability in Afghanistan if Pakistan feels insecure. The US also needs to acknowledge that an unstable nuclear-armed Pakistan will pose a far bigger threat than any threat emanating from Afghanistan.
Here's Viewpoint From Overseas host Misbah Azam discussing this subject with special guest United We Reach Chairperson Sabahat Rafiq and regular panelist Riaz Haq (www.riazhaq.com)
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