2018 Review: Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and United States

How did Pakistan's political landscape change in 2018? Have the Sharif family and the PMLN been marginalized? How was the security situation after continuing decline of terror fatalities since 2013? How has PTI done so far? Will NAB-led accountability of politicians continue or intensify in 2019? How will Imran Khan's government deal with the fact that the Zardari-led PPP rules Sind? Will President Arif Alvi impose governor's rule under the Constitution's article 234 or financial emergency under the Constitution's article 235 in Sindh province? Why is financial emergency more likely? How will PPP leadership react to such a move?

President Trump has reportedly already decided to remove US troops from Afghanistan after a similar decision on American troops pull-out from Syria. Will Trump actually pull bulk of US troops from Afghanistan? How will it affect the situation there? Can Afghan government survive without the presence of US troops? Who will rule Afghanistan when the Kabul government collapses? Taliban? Will Taliban be able to pacify Afghanistan? If the Taliban take control of Afghanistan, how will this affect the neighborhood? Will instability in Afghanistan continue? Will it hurt Pakistan?

How did President Trump's administration do in 2018? What message has the loss of the House to Democrats sent to President Trump and the Republican Party? Will the chaos continue into 2019? What problems has Trump's foreign and trade policy created for the United States and its allies? How will it affect Asia and the Middle East, particularly Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia?

Terrorism Deaths in Pakistan. Source: satp.org

Viewpoint From Overseas host Misbah Azam discusses these questions with panelists Sabahat Ashraf (iFaqeer) and Riaz Haq (www.riazhaq.com)


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Riaz Haq said…
#Trump wants 'great relationship' with #Pakistan, eyes meeting with leadership. Trump said his administration has initiated peace talks with the #Talibans. #US President announced at his his cabinet meeting he will meet PM #ImranKhan "very soon". #POTUS https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/414077-trump-wants-great-relationship-with-pakistan-eyes-meeting-with-new-leadership

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump early on Thursday said that he wants a "great relationship" with Pakistan and is looking forward to meeting the country's new leadership.

The US President underscored that his administration has initiated peace talks with the Taliban. He also announced that a meeting with the new leadership of Pakistan will take place "very soon".

Despite inviting Pakistan to play a more active role in Afghanistan, Trump was reported to have said his Cabinet colleagues in the same meeting that he cut $1.3 billion aid to the South Asian country "because they haven't been fair to us."

It is worth mentioning here that Trump, a month ago, had written a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan, seeking Pakistan's help with stuttering Afghan peace talks and support in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table to end the 17-year brutal war in the neighbouring country.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had met Prime Minister Khan in Islamabad in September last year and pressed him to take "sustained and decisive measures"against the militant groups threatening the regional peace and stability.

Earlier, South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham, who is considered close to President Trump, told CNN in an interview that if Pakistan helped the US in bringing the Taliban to the table for negotiations, then the US would focus on counterterrorism and the IS.

The senator wants the US to offer Pakistan a free trade agreement as an incentive for Islamabad to push the Taliban to the peace table to end the Afghan war.

While during a press conference at the White House, Trump blasted the United States's extended involvement in Afghanistan, where it has waged its longest war against the militant group. He said that Washington was currently in talks with various actors, including the Taliban, in search of peace, but then called on regional powers to step up.

"India is there, Russia is there, Russia used to be the Soviet Union, Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan," Trump said in response to questions over whether he planned to scale down US military presence in the war-torn country.
Riaz Haq said…
#India's history of going in to #Afghanistan after foreign invasions. #India supported #Soviet invasion of #Afghanistan and went into the country after 1979. Again in 2001, India found its way back into Afghanistan after #American invasion. @Diplomat_APAC http://thediplomat.com/2019/05/india-in-afghanistan-after-the-soviet-withdrawal/

In the UN debates during an emergency special session, India in fact broke ranks with its nonalignment partners and openly supported the Soviet position. India’s strong relations with the Soviet Union and Cold War geopolitics, where the United States alongside India’s rival Pakistan was propping up the Afghan resistance, were instrumental in prodding India to take the Soviet side in Afghanistan.


The tide shifted yet again in 2001. With the U.S.-led war on Taliban, India found its way back into Afghanistan. However, in the overall geopolitical calculations, Pakistan emerged as an all-important country due to its proximity to the Taliban heartland and its strong leverage over the militant group. Many times it has been alleged that, to cater to Pakistani wishes, India’s active involvement in Afghanistan has been discouraged – even though India and the United States share common goals and principles in relation to democracy and development in Afghanistan. In 2001, India was not invited to the Bonn conference, where the post-Taliban order in Afghanistan was discussed. Though eventually India joined as an observer and engaged in informal negotiations, it had to move its support from its old allies like Qanooni and Abdullah from the Northern Alliance to the United States’ favored Pashtun candidate, Hamid Karzai. In helping to bring about a consensus around the Pashtun leadership of Karzai, India also lost its existing clout among the non-Pashtun leadership, its friends in the erstwhile Northern Alliance.


In today’s Afghanistan, the Taliban form both the problem and the solution. The group has emerged as an ethno-nationalist force with various factions stitched together through tribal-ethnic allegiances rather than a mere Islamic extremist organization. There are groups and subfactions within the Taliban that do not view their overbearing dependence on Pakistan favorably.

The Taliban are players in Afghanistan and India needs to engage with them, even if only with the subfactions that may be motivated to accept the Afghan Constitution. Unlike the Taliban period, India may not avail itself of the full support of Iran and Russia, as both countries have had limited ties with the Taliban and their interests are not wholly congruent with India anymore. In a post-U.S. Afghanistan, India can safeguard its interests through an approach that is balanced, nuanced, and conciliatory in nature, but also moderately partisan when and if required. There are possibilities for India to build a stronger consensus among Afghan stakeholders (Pashtun and non-Pashtuns alike), through largely conciliatory approaches, to present a united front against the Taliban while simultaneously also engaging in or facilitating negotiations with the Taliban.

Riaz Haq said…
Ex #Indian diplomat: #Trump's U-Turn on #Pakistan is moment of truth for #India. Trump’s #invitation to #ImranKhan is beyond gratitude for Pakistan’s cooperation in making peace with #Taliban. Pakistani goal of ‘strategic depth’ vis-a-vis India is intact. https://indianpunchline.com/trumps-volte-face-on-pakistan-is-a-moment-of-truth-for-india/

Pakistan is hugely experienced in handling its relations with the US and it will of course make sure that the US reciprocates — politically, financially, militarily.

If Trump had praised India as the ‘critical part’ of his unfolding Afghan strategy in August 2017, he is now replacing India with Pakistan in a most curious reversal of roles in South Asia’s regional security paradigm. The White House announcement says explicitly that Imran Khan’s visit will ‘focus on strengthening cooperation between the United States and Pakistan to bring peace, stability, and economic prosperity to a region that has seen far too much conflict.’

It goes on to say that the US is meeting Pakistan’s longstanding demand for a wide-ranging, full-bodied relationship on par with US-Indian relations, ‘including counterterrorism, defense, energy, and trade.’ More importantly, in what can only be regarded as a veiled reference to the Kashmir issue and India-Pakistan tensions, the White House says that the US will keep in sight ‘the goal of creating the conditions for a peaceful South Asia and an enduring partnership between our two countries.’

To be sure, Washington has marginalised India and ignored its sensitivities regarding the Afghan situation by choreographing the post-war scenario in Afghanistan almost exclusively with Pakistan (and China.) And, yet, India-US relationship was supposed to be one between ‘natural allies’ and was described until fairly recently as the ‘defining partnership’ of the 21st century.

From the Indian perspective, therefore, Trump’s invitation to Imran Khan to visit the White House is a bitter pill to swallow. At best, it can put a brave face on the colossal setback to its regional policies during the past five years, which stubbornly refused to engage Pakistan in dialogue, strove to ‘isolate’ Pakistan as a state sponsoring terrorism, regarded Afghanistan primarily as a proxy war with Pakistan, refused to regard Taliban as an Afghan entity and fantasised an Indian-American convergence over regional security in regard of Afghanistan.

Clearly, when it comes to Afghanistan, Pakistan is Washington’s preferred partner, while India’s assigned role will be to serve as a doormat for the US’ containment policies against China, bandied about as its ‘Indo-Pacific strategy’. The Indian foreign policy elites owe an explanation as to how this bizarre situation came about. The entrenched Sinophobia in the Indian mindset has clouded rational thinking.

The emerging regional security scenario thoroughly exposes the myths shrouding India’s ‘defining partnership’ with the US and scatters the delusional thinking that what is quintessentially a transactional relationship rests on the bedrock of ‘shared values’ and ‘common concerns’ between the two countries. It was never really an equal relationship based on respect and trust or transparency — leave alone strategic convergence.

In retrospect, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative through the last year and a half to build a warm personal relationship with President Vladimir Putin with a view to revive the India-Russia relationship that was systematically atrophied as a matter of Indian policy during the past decade (with an unspoken agenda to give more ballast to the budding military ties with the US), and to expand and deepen the strategic communication with China following the Wuhan summit with President Xi Jinping with a view to improve India-China relations came not a day too soon.

That providential transition — for which wide acceptance is still lacking within our strategic community — significantly enhances India’s capacity today to adjust to the emerging US-Pakistani entente over post-war Afghanistan.
Riaz Haq said…
Incoming #US military chief calls for close ties with #Pakistan “ key partner in achieving US interests in #SouthAsia, including developing a political settlement in #Afghanistan; defeating Al Qaeda and ISIS-Khorasan; providing logistical aid for US forces https://www.dawn.com/news/1493607

Gen Mark Milley, President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also warned at his nomination hearing that a premature withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan would be a strategic mistake.

“If confirmed as chairman, my objective will be to preserve the defence relationship between the United States and Pakistan even as we press Pakistan to take action on US requests,” Gen Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing in Washington.

“While we have suspended security assistance and paused major defence dialogues, we need to maintain strong military-to- military ties based on our shared interests,” he added.

The statement, coming 10 days before Imran Khan’s first visit to Washington as prime minister, underlines a key element of the US-Pakistan relationship, the long, and once, close partnership between the two militaries.

It also highlights Pakistan’s support to the Afghan reconciliation process and hints at the role Islamabad played in persuading Taliban leaders to join talks with US in Doha. Pakistan is also believed to have cooperated with the United States in arranging an intra-Afghan dialogue, held in Doha earlier this week.

“I think pulling out prematurely would be a strategic mistake,” the general added while responding to a question about Afghanistan from one of the senators.

Gen Milley, currently the Army’s Chief of Staff, has served in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Colombia and is likely to be confirmed without any opposition from either Republican or Democratic lawmakers.

In Afghanistan, he served as the Commanding General, International Security Assistance Force Joint Command and Deputy Commanding General, US Forces.

The Senate panel had sent him a set of written questions on sensitive issues, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. His responses underlined the need to maintain a defence relationship with Pakistan, the country’s importance as a key strategic partner, Islamabad’s role in bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan and the need for Pakistan’s cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

“If confirmed, what changes, if any, would you recommend to US relations with Pakistan, particularly in terms of military-to-military relations and International Military Education and Training?” the committee asked. Gen Milley pointed out that President Trump’s South Asia strategy recognised Pakistan as “a key partner in achieving US interests in South Asia, including developing a political settlement in Afghanistan; defeating Al Qaeda and ISIS-Khorasan; providing logistical access for US forces; and enhancing regional stability”.

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