Article By: Gaurav Kumar
After months of wait, Trump announced his Afghanistan policy last week. It is not much different from last policy, besides a few “new brushed up words” and instructions of “do more” for all countries involved. Some of the interesting facts I see in the policy makeover is the USA’s lip-syncing with India and providing the space India always wanted in Afghanistan. In the past years also pentagon knew Pakistan’s double game in Afghanistan but never talked in so harsh words as Trump did. Currently, 8500 US troops are stationed there, well below 100000 during Peak days but according to same commentators not much have changed in Afghanistan, even after spending 800 billion dollars and staying there for more than 16 years. Taliban still controls more than 40% of territory and attacks still happen weekely killing more than 2400 US troops in last 16 years.
Giving India more space and criticising Pakistan comes with a big question this time, Is US changing its approach to “Give and take” for all the countries involved? The way Trump argued with China, “If china helps with North Korea, We will have liberal stance on trade otherwise..”, it seems pretty different approach from past. India, Pakistan and all the countries involved have reacted to this cautiously. There have been reports of China and Russia funding Taliban and providing them weapons. So what is the real game going on and what are the outcomes of new Afghanistan policy for all the countries involved, Let’s find out.
Afghanistan Policy Explained
The USA have spent more than 800 billion dollars in last 16 years and have lost more than 2400 men in Afghanistan. After thousands of drone strikes and lakhs of civilians killed nothing much changed past 16 years. More than 40% territory of Afghanistan is still under Taliban control. The rough mountainous terrain make it difficult to win a war. The war is sometimes compared with US-Vietnam war, in which even after so much bloodshed, the US was nowhere seen winning and at last it had no other option left but to pull out. Even Russia invaded Afghanistan and lost. This became a major setback and influenced the disintegration of USSR. USA have invaded many countries in the past and have got a crucial lesson, “Never leave a country after invasion“. The question arises, Why?
The last country, US invaded was Iraq and pulling out completely after invasion left the power vacuum. Wherever there is power vacuum, unwanted elements rise. In this case, it was ISIS. Although, there are a lot of opinions on the rise of ISIS, but we can all agree on one thing that it was a result of power vacuum in Iraq. The sudden leave from Iraq was the foremost reason of rise and spread of ISIS, which has its impact all over the world. The terrorist attacks happening now due to ISIS could have been avoided if the US didn’t do that mistake.
The Deja vu can happen with Afghanistan. Even though Trump promised in his pre-election speeches, he will withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan, and americans will no longer fight someone else’s war, his stance now is totally reverse. In his latest Afghan policy he calls for more standing troops in Afghanistan. He even refuses to give a timeline of troops removal. He clearly says ” we are there to win”. So lets see the policy highlights.
- The new US Afghan policy allows negotiations with the Taliban without any preconditions.
- USA can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond.
- Want India to help more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development.
- Trump avowed that he would deliver victory by defining it more clearly at the outset: “From now on, victory will have a clear definition-Attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.
- Expressing that it is up to the people of Afghanistan to take ownership of their future. Trump said, We are partner and a friend, but we will not dictate to the Afghan people how to live or govern their own complex society.
- Apart from sharing the American Establishment worldview on Afghanistan, he has also outsourced the war to his generals and commanders in the field where he has made it clear that there will be no “micro-management from Washington DC” and that he has already “lifted restrictions placed by the previous administration on action to be taken in the battlefield”.
- Though he didn’t specify a number, U.S. personnel in Afghanistan are likely to get a 50 percent increase to about 12,000 men and women.
As we can clearly see, USA is providing enough space for India in Afghanistan and is reducing Pakistan’s role. This might be the impact of geopolitics change happening. Pakistan and china define their friendship higher than Himalayas and deeper than the oceans. China have more than 70 billion dollars of projects going on in Pakistan and is the only investor there. Even though projects are not viable and the high interest loans will push Pakistan to bankruptcy sooner than anticipated, Pakistan doesn’t have a choice. Pakistan have always depended on some super power to counter India. Previously it was USA, now that USA is cozying with India due to economic reasons and ” being frustrated with Pakistan for not acting against Hakkani network”, Pakistan had no other choice to submit it to China. China seems to be the only economic power which seems to challenge USA and can give easy loans to them. So, this seems to be a win-win situation for Pakistan, but it’s not. Let me explain the impact of the new Afghan policy on different countries involved in it.
What it means for India?
Before observing the outcomes, let’s have a look at India’s role in Afghanistan till now.
India has been a key supporter of the Afghan government. Over the past decade and a half, India and Afghanistan have seen their ties deepening , the process started with the Taliban government getting toppled in December 2001. The growing ties have not sat well with all actors in the region. There have been several attacks on Indian assets in the country. The Indian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, a northern Afghan city, came under attack on Sunday. Another attack, planned to be carried out on India’s consulate in Afghanistan’s eastern city of Jalalabad during Prime Minister Modi’s vsist to the country, was foiled by Afghanistan’s intelligence service according to an “Indian Express” report.
Here are 6 things to know about the India-Afghanistan relations:
(source: Internet and newspaper reports)
1) Bilateral trade
India’s bilateral trade with Afghanistan stood at $684.47 million in 2014-15, an increase of 0.20 per cent over $683.10 million a year earlier, and 20.41 per cent higher than $568.44 million in 2010-11. India’s exports to Afghanistan in 2014-15 stood at $ 422.56 million, while its imports from that country were worth $261.91 million. Despite the lack of direct land access, India is the second-largest destination for Afghan exports.
India, according to an International Business Times report, delivered three Russia-made Mi-25 attack helicopters to Afghanistan in December last year. Reports suggest it is to deliver an additional helicopter soon.
3) Parliament building
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani on December 25 inaugurated the newly built Afghan Parliament building. India has constructed the new building at a cost of about $90 million, as a sign of friendship.
4) ‘Heart of Asia’ conference
India hosted the ‘Heart of Asia’ conference on Afghanistan this year. The previous iteration of the meet was held in Pakistan in December last year. Despite India’s requests for direct land access to Afghanistan, Pakistan has refused to provide such facility over its strategic concerns. Commenting on the alternate routes India could use to access Afghanistan in the absence of direct land access, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told the gathered ministers: “India is also working with Afghanistan and Iran to develop trilateral transit. Participation in development of Chahbahar will augment our connectivity with Afghanistan and beyond.”. India also announced direct air corridor for trade in essential goods.
5) India’s role
Commenting on India-Afghanistan ties, US State Department Spokesperson John Kirby had in August last year said: “India has played a constructive role over several past years inside Afghanistan.” Kirby’s statement had come as he urged other nations like China to do the same. India has so far given financial assistance worth over $2 billion to Afghanistan and has been involved in massive developmental efforts in the war-torn country.
6) A long history
During the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-89), India was the only South Asian nation to recognise the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. India also provided humanitarian aid to then Afghan President Najibullah’s government. Following the withdrawal of the Soviet forces, India continued to provide Najibullah’s government with humanitarian aid.
As we can see, we have a long history helping Afghanistan. Although, we may have some self interests involving Pakistan but no one can deny India’s humanitarian role in Afghanistan. We have provided aids to Nepal too, but Nepalis don’t show us love as Afghanis do.
The one thing cautious in Trump’s speech was following the policy of “Give and take” with India. Trump said, as India makes billions of dollars from trade with USA, so she must do more in Afghanistan. Although this tone can be due to his business profession in past, but this can be serious in long-term. India must have approach according to its self interests and strengths. In the short-term, USA wants more to be done in Infrastructure building and economic aids, but later we may see USA asking Indian troops to be stationed with US troops. If that happens, India will be in a catch-22 situation. You can’t prove you are doing more without stationing troops there, and without stationing troops, you can’t do more. India had a policy of not sending its troops on foreign soil, but as its influence, strength and requirement rise, I don’t see us following this policy for long.
Whenever USA tried to be harsh with Pakistan, Pakistan threatened to stop their troop’s supplies through their port. As India is building Chhabahar port with Iran, which will further be connected to Afghanistan via roads and railways, I see this network used by the US in future, bypassing Pakistan.
India should use this opportunity to strength its ties with Afghanistan. Signing of LEMOA pact last year with USA, pointed towards this role. We are having good relation with US in most of the fields now, and if we implement this with good understanding, our bonds will grow deeper. This bond is much-needed to counter China, which wants its lone hegemony in Asia.
What it means for Pakistan?
Although Pakistan supports Taliban to some extent, Taliban doesn’t always agree to Pakistan. Even when Afghanistan had Taliban govt, they didn’t agree to the boundary agreements with Pakistan. They even had some border fights for some disputed boundary regions. The reason Pakistan supports Taliban is, to lessen Indian influence there. In the past 16 years, Indian influence have grown a lot in Afghanistan and Afghan people love India for the unilateral assistance. They view Pakistan as terror sponsor there. Even though Pakistan is still having millions of Afghan refugees, they can’t do much due to open border.
As Taliban influence grew in Pakistan establishments, they came much closer. Many leaders got settled there in fear of US drone attacks in Afghanistan and used Pakistan as their base. Their families got settled there and even their children study in Pakistani Universities. So, when USA asks Pakistan to root out Haqqani network, it’s not that easy for Pakistan to do so. Pakistani army is busy fighting in insurgents in Baluchistan and Pakistani Taliban. They are expected to provide security to CPEC. So, they don’t want war at another front with Haqqani. There is no point fighting them, as they are no threat to Pakistan till now.
So the question arises is, “What does the new afghan policy mean for Pakistan”. The moment Trump said, Pakistan is sponsoring and harbouring the same terrorist, USA is fighting and so he won’t allow this double game to continue, Pakistani officials reacted sharply saying they no more want US aid and just want to be treated with respect.
The latest statement from Pakistan just pointed out their own losses in fighting terrorism and how they have suffered more than 100 billion dollar financial loss and 70000+ human loss. They hit back saying US harbours Afghan Taliban which attacks its soil.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson hinted at what could be on the line if Pakistan does not comply. “We have some leverage that’s been discussed in terms of the amount of aid and military assistance we give them, their status as a non-NATO alliance partner. All of that can be put on the table,” he told reporters in Washington, DC.
Analysts say that the new policy could also see an uptick in US drone attacks in Pakistani territory. This year, four such strikes have been reported, down markedly from the 132 assaults in 2010. The possibility of US forces undertaking “hot pursuit” operations into Pakistani territory could also be on the cards.
Pakistan is also the fifth largest recipient of US aid, although the amount has dropped in recent years. In 2017, Pakistan is due to receive $742.2m in military and civilian assistance.The US has, however, been turning the screws, particularly in the form of reimbursements to the country’s military under the Coalition Support Fund. In July, the US withheld $50m in reimbursements to Pakistan, adding to $300m already withheld over allegations that the country had not taken sufficient action against the Haqqani Network group.
Pakistan has repeatedly denied offering safe havens to elements of the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network. The latter was held responsible for a several major attacks across Afghanistan, including a truck bombing in the capital Kabul in May that killed more than 80 people and left more than 400 wounded.
In May 2016, then Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a US drone strike on his vehicle near the town of Noshki in southwestern Pakistan.
Mansour, who was travelling with a Pakistani passport under the name Wali Muhammad, had been returning from the Pakistan-Iran border town of Taftan. Immigration records suggested that Mansour had undertaken more than a dozen trips to and from Pakistan, mostly to the United Arab Emirates and Iran, in the past several years.
One thing we can all agree is, Pakistan is showing its strength under the influence of China. China wants its unilateral diplomatic and financial control on Pakistan to counter India. Although china have supported a lot of projects in Pakistan, none of the project is on soft loans. Interest rates are high and it’s not free money as US provided. US still have single control on world bank and IMF. If Pakistan wants to mess with USA under china’s influence, then one thing is sure, USA will make it messier.
The only observation Pakistan officials stated is ” India can’t be sole security provider of this region” which clearly points out their fear and intentions.
What it means for China?
Although there is no direct role of China in Afghanistan affairs, it have a wll known trade interests there. Afghanistan is a resource rich country waiting to be exploited. As Pakistan is untold ally of china, China wants Pakistan influence to grow in Afghanistan.
There are reports of china providing weapons to Taliban in Afghanistan. Some reports show financial support too. Being a rival of India, China will definitely support Pakistan’s interests directly or indirectly.
What it means for Iran?
As per some reports, Iran have been pushing Shia militants into Afghanistan. The Taliban leader Mullah Mansoor, which got killed in drone attacks last year in Pakistan, travelled Iran frequently and was welcomed there. Russia and Iran are also supporting Taliban as per US intelligence reports, indicating Pakistan is no longer the lone supporter.
Iran blames USA of not respecting the nuclear deal, it signed few years back and thus wants to hurt the US interests, wherever it can. Iran is deepening its influence in Afghanistan day by day, but till now it’s not a major player. If Trump gets frustrated with Iran’s approach, he might go for more sanctions which could further make this messier.
What it means for Russia?
Russia wants to Punish USA like it got punished back in soviet era. After invading Afghanistan, Russia suffered the worst it could imagine and the USSR got disintegrated. Russia is trying gaining the influence it had in the soviet era. Modernisation of weapons have been on full-scale. Even after big fall in oil prices, Russia has been increasing its defence budget.
The Ukrainian territory of Crimea was annexed by the Russian Federation in 2014. Even after so many US threats and sanctions, Russia turned a blind eye to it. The role Russia played in Syria, can’t be ignored. If it was not Russia, then Assad regime would have fallen.
Russia can’t challenge USA financially , but militarily it is the lone challenger. If USA hurts Russian interests by sanctions, Russia pays back by hurting US interests by funding Taliban. Russia and China have been cozying up recently to counter USA. Russia can challenge the US, militarily and China Financially, leading to funding of Taliban for hurting US interests.
In conclusion, it seems Afghanistan is going to be the next hotbed of proxy wars. With India joining USA, and Pakistan, Russia, Iran, China giving indirect support to Taliban, it is going to lead more instability in Afghanistan. As per Trump speech, USA decides, It will fight to win and won’t leave Afghanistan till it wins, the situation is going to be lot messy,
But Do we have a choice?
Not much, but India shouldn’t fight the US war but concentrate on its own interests. Afghanistan is a sinkhole in which its easy to get in, but very tough to get out.