Thoughts on Trump’s Afghan Strategy

If President Trump’s new strategy and the reaction it has received from the current and former US officials and commentators around the world is any evidence, the chances of its success seems pretty low.

Posted on 09/18/17
By Mohammad Zainal Abedin | Via ViewsWeek
(Photo by Sean Ellis, CC license)
(Photo by Sean Ellis, CC license)

President Donald Trump’s recent speech on Afghanistan fails to identify the ground realities and attracts acclamation of those who have minimum respect for humanity and independence of others. In his speech he not only deviated from his predecessor President Barack Obama’s footprints of Afghanistan policy, but also backed out from his election pledge of ending the expensive Afghan war.


The Afghan is the most suffered nation in the world that has endured occupation and war for about four decades. The country fell victim to the Soviet occupation, which in its quest to reach the warm waters of Arabian Sea invaded the country in 1979.


Then came Operation Enduring Freedom following the 2001 terrorist attacks, bringing thousands of US and NATO forces to the landlocked country. The Afghan blood continued to be spilled at the hands of terrorists, the UN-sanctioned foreign forces, gangs of warlords and tribal thugs. The Taliban were swiftly ousted. However, peace has remained elusive even 16 years after America’s longest war and spending hundreds of billions of dollars of tax payers money.


President Trump’s new policy will simply prolong the miseries of the Afghans, as well as the foreign forces. It will also complicate Washington’s relations with Islamabad, which has served as US ally longer than any other South Asian country. It also serves as a major route for military supplies for US-lead coalition forces in Afghanistan. If Pakistan had any intentions of harming American interests, it could have denied such facilities or heavily tax them. But not so. Instead, Pakistanis have paid a heavy price for joining the US-lead war on terror. Over 60 thousand Pakistanis lost their lives in terrorist attacks and more than 120 billion dollars in damage to its economy. The country, despite its struggling economy and limited international support it has hosted over 3.5 million Afghan refugees. Two million Afghan refugees are still based in Pakistan.


Unfortunately, President Trump forgot all these services and sacrifices that Pakistan rendered. Instead of acknowledging Islamabad’s contribution in containing terrorism, President Trump publicly threatened to teach and squeeze Pakistan accusing it of harboring the terrorists. Pakistan has rejected these charges.


On the other hand, India that till 2001 was aligned to anti-American camp and served against American interest, surprisingly got Trump’s unusual praise. In the backdrop of complicated India-Pakistan relations, bringing India into Afghan equation could foment new tensions. With India in and Pakistan out of US partnership priorities in Afghanistan, will Islamabad find enough reasons to heed to Washington’s demands to stop supporting the Haqqani Network, the biggest irritant in the two countries’ relations is anybody’s guess.


Trump’s speech hurt the Pakistanis so much that there was a spontaneous shift in Pakistani public opinion, which called for saying goodbye to the country’s alliance with the US. While policymakers in Washington may not realize that slapping sanctions against Islamabad may not mean too much to the South Asian country because of the increasing support it enjoys from China and Russia.


Sensing these realities, since August 21, more than a dozen retired US officials and generals have warned that the US decision to get tough with Pakistan and give a greater role to India in Afghanistan may backfire.


They apprehend Trump’s strategy could prompt Pakistan to close the US supply route to landlocked Afghanistan. Iran is unlikely to allow the US to use its land to ferry its supplies to Afghanistan. Route to Afghanistan through Central Asian Republics, which are still under Russian influence, will be expensive, unviable, time consuming and unreliable. On the other hand, both Russia and China may influence the concerned countries to deter US supply to Afghanistan. And Trump’s ally India will be of no use to salvage the US from such a dilemma.


Does the US-lead coalition have a strategy to win the war in Afghanistan militarily and stabilize the country? If President Trump’s new strategy and the reaction it has received from the current and former US officials and commentators around the world is any evidence, the chances of its success seems pretty low.


(The contributor is a New York-based journalist & researcher who can be reached at:

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