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Archive for category Decline of Empires

Pakistan Should Ditch Washington by Brian Cloughly

To the despair of State Department professionals (who are very professional indeed), the art and craft of US diplomacy have taken a very nasty knock since the appearance of Donald Trump on the world stage. To be sure, the practice of sending rich political donors to prime ambassadorial posts such as Berlin, Tokyo and London has been the norm for decades, but some of Trump’s appointees have stretched the bubble of amateurism a little too far.  The man in Germany, for example, was only in the job for a day, in May this year, before he gave orders that “German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately,” which début debacle was met with derision by the German people.

The pompous ass in London, billionaire Woody Johnson, was interviewed by Sky News in June 2018 and cast an intriguing light on his expertise concerning his host country. When he was asked the nature of his relationship with Sadiq Khan he replied: “with whom?”  The interviewer then told him that Sadiq Khan is the Mayor of London, whereupon Woody announced that “My relationship is very good.”

Then President Trump informed London’s Sun newspaper that “You have a mayor who has done a terrible job in London. He has done a terrible job.”

 

Image result for Trump US Stabs Pakistan

 

 

There’s not much joined-up diplomacy in the Trump Administration, but although these examples are mildly amusing and show the people involved to be the fools they are, there is a most serious side to the international diplomatic devastation created by Trump, the man so well described by dismissed White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman as “tawdry, cruel, vindictive.”

The disconnect was highlighted on August 13, the day before Pakistan’s Independence Day, when US Secretary of State Pompeo messaged “On behalf of the Government of the United States of America, I would like to extend my best wishes to the people of Pakistan as they celebrate their independence day.  For more than seven decades, the relationship between the United States and Pakistan has rested on the strong foundation of close ties between our two peoples.  In the years ahead, we hope to further strengthen these bonds, as we continue to look for opportunities to work with the people and Government of Pakistan to advance our shared goals of security, stability, and prosperity in South Asia.”

This supposedly friendly greeting was sent to a country about which Trump had tweeted that “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

“Strengthen bonds”, anyone? Washington must be unhinged (to employ the title of the Omarosa book) to imagine that a few clichés about “shared goals” might in some way cancel out Trump’s malevolent insults.

Not only this, but Washington has made one of the gravest diplomatic errors of its many with Pakistan by suspending the US International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme. This doesn’t sound much, but it is probably the most serious setback in Pakistan-US relations thus far in the Trump regime’s fandangos of international incompetence.

The most important part of IMET was the annual training in the US of some 60-70 Pakistan armed forces’ officers, including at the US Army War College (one of the most professional —  that word again — military academies in the world). It cannot be emphasised too much that this sort of hosting pays enormous dividends. Not only is participation in specialised discussion and mixing with people of different views most beneficial to students and hosts, but personal contacts build trust and expand horizons.  It cannot be valued in money.  You simply can’t put a price on it, which I found an enormous and indeed insuperable hurdle when I was trying to convince pointy-headed Australian bureaucrats that hosting foreign students and sending our people abroad would pay dividends in the future.

Not for nothing is the motto of the US War College “Prudens Futuri, which is usually translated as “Be provident for the future.” But at the moment, Washington’s thinking about the future appears to be limited to the mid-term elections and (appalling thought) the re-election of Trump in 2020.

Meantime, Pakistan suffers from US bullying and intimidation, with the “bond-strengthening” Pompeo making threats about what might happen as a result of a loan to Pakistan by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  He issued a warning that an IMF credit would be conditional on a promise that none of the money is used to repay Chinese debt, which is a weird way of trying to “advance our shared goals of security, stability, and prosperity.”

Pompeo told CNBC that “Make no mistake. We will be watching what the IMF does. There’s no rationale for IMF tax dollars, and associated with those American dollars that are part of the IMF funding, for those to go to bail out Chinese bondholders or China itself.”

But the arrogant assumption that Washington can dictate everything to the world doesn’t intimidate China, Russia or Pakistan.  The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project linking China’s western provinces through Pakistan to the Arabian Sea is worth $62 billion, and other economic and defence links with China are commercially, politically and socially of much more importance to Pakistan than its tenuous and increasingly fragmenting connections with the United States. There are some who scoff at CPEC, like Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington and CIA asset, who, according to the Washington Post, “quipped that the Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor . . . actually should be called “Colonizing Pakistan to Enrich China.”

Washington’s growing arrogance doesn’t intimidate Russia, either, and in the light of increasing confrontation by the US-NATO military alliance, it is apparent that a new era in Moscow-Islamabad cooperation has dawned. For a start, as reported by Voice of America on August 8, “Pakistan has wrapped up a ground-breaking contract with Russia that would, for the first time, open doors for Russian military training of Pakistani army officers. The rare deal comes amid deteriorating relations between Islamabad and the United States, which has resulted in the halt of all military exchange programs with Pakistan and left a void that Moscow has stepped in to fill.” Washington will rue the day it closed the doors of professional colleges to Pakistan’s military officers.

Not only that, but Russia has provided Mi-35M combat helicopters to Pakistan, and the two countries’ armies have held two counter-terrorism military exercises, while their navies “recently participated in joint antidrug exercises in the Arabian Sea. The latest naval collaboration took place last week in St Petersburg, where a Pakistani warship participated in the major Russian Navy Day parade.”  Their cooperation will develop and expand, to their mutual benefit.

Pakistan is wise to engage with China and Russia and should ditch the Washington Empire.

Prudens futuri.

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Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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RACISM & ISLAMOPHOBIA IN AMERICA -A LOOK INTO THE MINDS WHO ELECTED DONALD TRUMP

 

RACISM AND ISLAMOPHOBIA DURING AND AFTER TRUMP’S ELECTION IN AMERICA

 

Trump retweets anti-Muslim videos

https://www.cnn.com/2017/11/29/politics/donald-trump-retweet-jayda-fransen/index.html

 

Islamophobia and the Empire

 

 

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Nuclear Chutzpah By Eric Margolis

Nuclear Chutzpah

By Eric Margolis

May 07, 2018

 

 

 

‘Chutzpah’ is a wonderful Yiddish word that means outrageous nerve, or unmitigated gall.

This week’s Chutzpah Award goes to Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Standing in front of props of data files and cd’s, Netanyahu claimed Israel’s renowned Mossad spy agency had stolen a small mountain of secret Iranian nuclear data from a warehouse in Tehran.

The never-understated Netanyahu claimed that the purloined material proved that Iran was lying about having halted its covert nuclear program and must not be trusted.

Netanyahu’s supposed nuclear bombshell was likely the warm-up act for President Donald Trump to reject Iran’s nuclear freeze deal with the US, Russia, China, Germany, and France, blessed by the UN and the European Union. The only thing Trump apparently hates more than Muslims is his predecessor, former President Barack Obama (whom he accused of being a secret Muslim). The Iran nuclear deal was the most important foreign policy accomplishment of the Obama administration.

Netanyahu repeatedly warned the world about Iran’s alleged nuclear arsenal while making no mention at all of Israel’s own large, secret nuclear arsenal, which is believed to comprise of over 100 warheads, perhaps even several hundred, that can be delivered by aircraft, missiles and submarines. Every Mideast nation can be hit by Israeli nukes as well as Russia, which some experts say is or was on Israel’s target list.

Trump, of course, made no mention of the awkward fact that Israel had stolen much of its nuclear technology and uranium from the United States, sometimes with the connivance of very senior US government officials. France, that paragon of world peace, had the rest.

Listening to Netanyahu accuse Iran of hiding secret nuclear facilities was a pure pot calling the kettle black. Israel’s early nuclear program at Dimona in the Negev desert was entirely concealed from US and UN inspectors, including fake walls in the nuclear complex that completely fooled them. When Netanyahu accused Iran of cheating, he knows of what he speaks.

Most of what Netanyahu ‘revealed’ about Iran’s alleged nuclear program was old stuff, dating back to 1999-2003 and readily available in reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency. This respected UN agency now reports that Iran has fulfilled all of its commitments and abandoned its earlier nuclear program that did not produce any weapons before it was ended.

But facts don’t matter in this Trump-produced, made-for-TV drama. The key point is that with the naming of Michael Pompeo as US Secretary of State, and appointment of the rightwing fanatic John Bolton as US national security advisor, Israel’s rightwing government has completed its virtual takeover of US Mideast policy. As I’ve previously written, Trump looks more and more like a Trojan Horse for Netanyahu and his extremist allies.

 

Dimona-Israel Nuclear Program-Actual Nuclear Bombs are kept near Airbases such as one around Accor

 

 

 

 

 

 

Besides Pompeo and VP Mike Pence, both ardent Christian Zionists, and Bolton, Trump now has around him the UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, of Indian origin, who is the darling of the US far right and a handmaiden of arch-pro Israel billionaire, Sheldon Adelson, a major bankroller of the Republican Party. Add in Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and, of course, Trump’s daughter and son-in-law. In short, an amen-chorus for Israel’s far right.

This American Israel-first coalition has joined Netanyahu’s Likud alliance in pressing for war against Iran. The first skirmishes have already begun with over 100 Israeli air attacks on Syria, ostensibly against Iranian positions. A great propaganda hue and cry against the purported dangers of Iran is being raised in the US and Europe. According to Israel’s right, Assyrian hordes are about to engulf Israel.

 

 

 

 

In reality, Iran has very little offensive power. Like Iraq before it, Iran is militarily dilapidated with 40-year old equipment, a largely grounded air force, little artillery and poor communications. Tehran has a few inaccurate missiles but no nuclear warheads.

Israel’s powerful air force could easily turn any attacking Iranian forces into chopped falafel. Iran’s only strength is defensive, in urban combat or mountainous terrain. Iran has no capability to seriously threaten Israel except by aiding the Lebanese Hezbollah movement in showering northern Israel with light artillery rockets, a nuisance rather than a mortal danger.

Israel is moving to repeat its triumph in 2003 when the Bush administration, US partisans of Israel, and dishonest US media pushed the nation into a war of pure aggression against Iraq. Israel emerged the victor from this unprovoked war and is trying to repeat its success again with Iran.

Overthrowing Iran’s Islamic Republic would leave Israel the unchallenged power in the Mideast.

Eric S. Margolis is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune the Los Angeles Times, Times of London, the Gulf Times, the Khaleej Times, Nation – Pakistan, Hurriyet, – Turkey, Sun Times Malaysia and other news sites in Asia.https://ericmargolis.com/

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A Time Of Chaos By Boaventura de Sousa Santos

A Time Of Chaos

By Boaventura de Sousa Santos

May 03, 2018
The bombing of Syrian sites where chemical weapons are allegedly being manufactured or stocked, allegedly to be used by the Bashar al-Assad government against the rebels, has left citizens all over the world in a state of confusion, filled with a mixture of perplexity and scepticism. In spite of the bombing by the Western media (a particularly apt metaphor in this case), in their attempt to persuade public opinion of the latest atrocities committed by al-Assad’s regime; in spite of the near unanimous opinion of political commentators that this was nothing but a humanitarian response, a fair punishment, and one more proof of the vitality of the “Western alliance”; in spite of all this, citizens in the West (and much more so in the rest of the world), whenever asked, expressed their doubts about this media narrative and for the most part spoke against the attacks. Why is that?
The consequences
Because citizens who possess at least a modicum of information have a better memory than commentators, and because, although they lack expertise on the causes of such acts of war, they have an expert knowledge of their consequences, which is something that said commentators always fail to notice. They remember that in 2003 the justification for the invasion of Iraq was the existence of weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist. They remember that the photos that were exhibited at the time had been tampered with so as to lend credibility to the big lie. They remember that then, as now, the attack occurred on the eve of the arrival of an independent commission of experts sent to investigate the existence of such weapons.
They remember that the lie left behind a million dead and a destroyed country, with fat reconstruction contracts being handed over to US companies (such as Halliburton) and oil exploration contracts given to Western oil companies. They remember that in 2011 the same coalition destroyed Libya, turning it into a den of terrorists and traffickers in refugees and emigrants, and yielding the same type of fat contracts. They remember that so far the war in Syria has caused 500,000 dead, 5 million refugees, and 6 million displaced within Syrian borders. Above all, thanks perhaps to that mysterious cunning of reason whereof Hegel spoke, they remember what the media does not tell them. They remember that two genocides are underway in the region.

An injured toddler rescued after being trapped under rubble from an air strike on rebel-held eastern Aleppo, Syria, August 15th 2016.

An injured toddler rescued after being trapped under rubble from an air strike on rebel-held eastern Aleppo, Syria, August 15th, 2016.  

Credit: Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

They are being perpetrated by state terrorism but they are almost never mentioned because the aggressor states are “our” allies: one is the Yemeni genocide at the hands of Saudi Arabia, the other is Israel’s genocide of the Palestinian people.
These are the more visible consequences. But there are other victims, of which the ordinary citizen is hardly aware, her suspicions sometimes not more than a vague discomfort. I will focus on three of those victims. The first is international law, which has once again been violated, given that actions of war are legitimate only in case of self-defence or under a UN Security Council mandate. None of these conditions has been met. Bilateral and multilateral treaties are being thrown out one after another, as trade wars become increasingly fierce. Are we in the process of entering a new Cold War, with fewer rules and more innocent deaths? Are we heading toward a third world war? Where is the UN, to prevent it through diplomacy? What else can countries like Russia, China or Iran be expected to do but move further away from Western countries and their fake multilateralism, and come up with their own alternatives for cooperation? The second victim is human rights. Here the West reached a paroxysm of hypocrisy: the military destruction of entire countries and the killing of innocent populations has become the sole means of promoting human rights. It somehow seems that there is no other means of fostering human rights except by violating them, and Western-style democracy does not know how to flourish except among ruins. The third victim is the “war on terror”. No person of good will can accept the death of innocent victims in the name of some political or ideological goal, much less when perpetrated by the countries – the United States and its allies – that over the last twenty years have given full priority to the war on terrorism. So how can one comprehend the current financing and arming, by the Western powers, of groups of Syrian rebels that are known to be terrorist organizations and that, like Bashar al-Assad, have also used chemical weapons against innocent populations in the past? I allude in particular to the al-Nusra front, the extremist Salafist group also known as the Al Qaeda of Syria, which seeks to establish an Islamic state. In fact, the most frequent accusations, by US institutions, with regard to the financing of extremist and terrorist groups point the finger precisely at that most loyal of US allies, Saudi Arabia. What are the hidden goals of a war on terror that supports terrorists with money and arms?
The causes
Given that the causes elude all the news noise, it is more difficult for ordinary citizens to identify them. Convention has it that one can distinguish between proximate and structural causes. Among the proximate causes, the dispute over the natural gas pipeline is the one most frequently mentioned. The large natural gas reserves in the Qatar and Iran region can take two alternative routes to reach the wealthy, voracious consumer called Europe: the Qatar pipeline, going through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey, and the Iranian pipeline, across Iran, Iraq and Syria. For geopolitical reasons, the US favours the former route while Russia prefers the latter. Bashar al-Assad was also in favour of the latter, as it benefitted Shiite governments only. From that moment on, the West viewed him as a target to be taken down. Major Rob Taylor, a professor at the US Army’s Command and General Staff College, wrote in the Armed Forces Journal of March 21, 2014: “Viewed through a geopolitical and economic lens, the conflict in Syria is not a civil war, but the result of larger international players positioning themselves on the geopolitical chessboard in preparation for the opening of the pipeline in 2016”.
The structural causes are perhaps more convincing. It has been my contention that we are at a transitional moment between capitalism’s globalizations. The first globalization took place from 1860 to 1914 and was dominated by England. The second took place from 1944 to 1971 and was dominated by the US. The third began in 1989 and is now coming to an end. It was dominated by the US, but with the growing multilateral participation of Europe and China. In between globalization, the rivalry between would-be dominant countries tends to increase and can give rise to wars between them or their respective allies. At this point in time, the rivalry is between the US, an empire in decline, and China, a rising empire. In a study titled “Global Trends, 2030”, the US National Intelligence Council – an institution that could hardly be viewed as biased – states that in the year 2030 “Asia is going to be the center of world economy just as it was until 1500,” and China could become the world’s first economy.
The rivalry escalates but cannot lead to head-on confrontation because China already has a major influence on the domestic economy of the US and is a major creditor of its public debt. Trade wars are critical and they spread to the high-tech areas because whoever gets to dominate those areas (namely automation or robotics) will be poised to dominate the next globalization. The US will only enter treaties that are likely to isolate China. Since China is already too strong as it is, it has to be confronted by its allies. The most prominent among them is Russia, and recent agreements between the two countries provide for non-dollar denominated transactions, especially oil-related, which poses a fatal threat to the international reserve currency. Russia couldn’t possibly be permitted to boast about a victory in Syria, a victory, let it be said, against terrorist extremists, and one that Russia has been on the verge of obtaining, thanks supposedly to President Obama’s lack of direction when he left Syria out of his list of priorities. It was, therefore, necessary to find a pretext for returning to Syria to resume the war for a few more years, as is the case with Iraq and Afghanistan. North Korea is also an ally and must be treated with hostility so as to embarrass China. Finally, there is the fact that China, like all rising empires, is pursuing (fake) multilateralisms and therefore is responding to the trade war by fostering open trade.
But it has also pursued limited multilateral agreements aimed at creating alternatives to US economic and financial dominance. The most salient of these agreements was the BRICS, formed by Russia, India, South Africa and Brazil, besides China. The BRICS even created an alternative world bank. They had to be neutralized. Since Modi’s rise to power, India has lost interest in the agreement. Brazil was a particularly strategic partner because of the country’s articulation – albeit a reluctant one – with a more radical alternative that had emerged in Latin America at the initiative of a number of progressive governments, notably Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela. Mention should be made, in this regard, to ALBA, UNASUR and CELAC, a set of political and trade agreements aimed at freeing Latin America and the Caribbean from US century-old tutelage. The most vulnerable of the BRICS countries were Brazil, perhaps because it was also the most democratic. The process whereby it was neutralized began with the institutional coup against President Dilma Rousseff and was taken further with the illegal imprisonment of Lula da Silva and the dismantling of every single nationalist policy undertaken by the PT governments. Curiously enough, South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, no doubt a corrupt leader and a BRICS enthusiast, has been replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa, one of the richest men in Africa (not as corrupt as Zuma?) and a staunch advocate of global neoliberalism. The Summit of the Americas, which took place in Lima on 13-14 April and was virtually ignored by the European media, was a most relevant geopolitical piece in this context. Venezuela’s participation was vetoed, and according to El Pais of 15 April (Brazilian edition), the meeting signalled the demise of Bolivarian America. The strengthening of US influence in the region has become very clear, judging from the way in which the US delegation criticized China’s growing influence on the continent.
For all these reasons, the war in Syria is part of a much broader geopolitical game, whose future looks very uncertain. May 2, 2018
Boaventura de Sousa Santos is Portuguese professor of Sociology at the School of Economics, University of Coimbra (Portugal), the distinguished legal scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School, and global legal scholar at the University of Warwick. Co-founder and one of the main leaders of the World Social Forum. Article provided to Other News by the author

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Why Trump’s Troubling Pakistan Policy Dooms Afghanistan Peace By Touqir Hussain The Diplomat

The Diplomat

The Diplomat

Why Trump’s Troubling Pakistan Policy Dooms Afghanistan Peace

The administration’s approach to Islamabad undermines potential solutions in Afghanistan.

By Touqir Hussain
February 15, 2018 
 

For a 16-year-long war in Afghanistan, whose failure lies in an endless list of complex causes – including flawed strategy, incoherent war aims, return of the warlords, rise of fiefdoms and ungoverned spaces, corruption, power struggles and a competitive and conflict-prone regional environment – U.S. President Donald Trump has one simple solution: get rid of the Haqqani Network and Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan. And if Pakistan does not oblige, cut off aid.

Like the Afghanistan war, the equally complicated U.S.-Pakistan relationship is also being narrowly defined, thereby obscuring the many different ways it can serve or hurt the very American interests that the Trump administration is trying to serve.

It is certainly true that Pakistan has a lot to answer for, especially for its illicit relationship with the Taliban. But sanctuaries did not play a defining role in the war’s failure, nor will their eradication, if they still exist, play a salient part in its success.
Sixteen years into the war, which has been described as “16 one year wars,” Washington has shown no better understanding of the complexities of Afghanistan and the region than when it invaded the country in 2001. Some understanding of what has gone wrong might help us find the way forward.

The War in Afghanistan: What Went Wrong

It was a war that may not have been unnecessary but was nonetheless possibly avoidable. It has been an unwinnable war in the way it has been conducted, especially given the realities of a strife-torn country wracked by multiple conflicts since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1973.  The 1980s war against the Soviets and the subsequent civil war had raised the profile of the mullah and jihad and changed not only Afghanistan but also the adjoining tribal territories in Pakistan. Home to millions of Afghan refugees and base to mujaheddin, these territories almost became like one country along with the areas across the Afghan border.

Pakistan’s heartland too was affected by the religious infrastructure spawned by the 1980s war and by Islamabad’s own follies,  to which Washington made no small contribution, first through the ISI- and CIA-sponsored jihad in Afghanistan, and then by sanctioning Pakistan in 1990 and leaving it to its own devices. The Taliban were an extension of this slow unravelling of Afghanistan, and strategic overreach of the Pakistan army and societal changes in the country.

Former President George W. Bush made grievous mistakes upon America’s return to Afghanistan. He showed no understanding of what had been going on in and around Afghanistan since Washington’s last exit. It was a strategic mistake to try to defeat al-Qaeda by defeating Taliban who were not going to fight but instead run away to Pakistan. The focus should have been on al-Qaeda. The context of dealing with the Taliban was fixing fractured Afghanistan through reconstruction and stabilization of the country with a new ethnic-regional balance acceptable to all the Afghans. That is what you call nation-building. But Washington, of course, would have none of that.

Instead, Bush outsourced much of the war to warlords and rushed to institute democracy, guided by the need to get domestic support for the war and by a flawed view that democracy is nation-building. Actually, democracy and nation-building are two separate challenges, with one sometimes reinforcing the other but not always.

In Afghanistan, democracy did not help. It made Karzai dependent on the political support of warlords and regional power brokers, the very people who had brought Afghanistan to grief in the 1990s. This led to payoffs, corruption, a drug mafia, power struggles, and bad governance, facilitating the return of the Taliban which led a resistance that was a part insurgency, part jihad, and part civil-war. And by creating a dual authority – their own and that of the Afghan government – Americans set up a perfect scenario for clash of personalities, policies and interests, making for a poor war strategy.

 

 

 

 

While Bush went on to fight another war, for his successor, it was a story of dealing with his deeply conflicted approach to the war where policy and legacy collided. Indeed the policymaking itself was not without its own conflicts, strife-torn as it was by turf wars, interagency rivalries and bureaucratic tensions.

The Trump Strategy

Now Trump is seeking a military solution to the conflict. There is a talk of a political solution, but that seems to be just a Plan B in case the military option fails. The suspension of aid to Pakistan is aimed at pressuring Islamabad to help Washington defeat the Taliban. But Pakistan is finding it hard to oblige without relinquishing its national interests in favour of U.S. aid, and that too in the face of public humiliation by Trump. It certainly will not do so in this election year, and not in an atmosphere where Pakistan sees the Indian threat having doubled with India’s increased presence in Afghanistan from where it is allegedly helping orchestrate terrorist attacks on Pakistan. If anything, this should enhance Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban, which may be demonstrating their value as an ally with the recent horrific terrorist attacks in Kabul.

The Taliban are the biggest card Pakistan has to secure its interests in Afghanistan, and it would not give it up easily unless it knows what comes next.  Pakistan also feels the U.S. strategy would not succeed and may in fact backfire. A disinherited Taliban on a retreat from Afghanistan would be a much greater threat to Pakistan and to the United States, especially if the Taliban joins forces with other jihadist and Islamist groups.

The Washington-Islamabad standoff thus continues. Pakistan feels it can take the heat, and that if Washington dials up the pressure, it would fall back on China. Washington thus has to consider the geostrategic implications carefully in this respect.

The China Factor

A Pakistan closely aligned with China could conceivably take a harder line against India. If the United States continues to see China as a threat and India as a balancer, what would serve American interests better: an India whose resources are divided by a two-front deployment, or one that has friendly relations with Pakistan? For that, Washington should not burn its bridges with Islamabad.

A relationship with Pakistan would also give the United States leverage against India. Furthermore, it will be useful to have Pakistan on its side in a region that is increasingly coming under the strategic shadow of Russia and the creeping influence of Iran. Most importantly, Pakistan’s role remains critical in stabilizing Afghanistan, and in helping Washington’s counterterrorism efforts.

A Political Solution?

After considering all other options, the discussion always reverts to the talk of a political solution. But the irony is such a solution remains as elusive as the military one. How do you have power-sharing or coexistence when the Kabul government and the Taliban subscribe to two different political systems? And if instead of sharing it, you divide power by relinquishing the governance of some areas to the Taliban rule, are you not consigning the populations to the Middle Ages?

Pakistan has a limited influence to bring Taliban to the negotiating table and has little incentive to do so when there is lack of clarity about American policy and Pakistan’s own relations with Washington are strained. The upshot is that Taliban themselves are divided. Some are irreconcilable, but those who want peace worry that if they do lay down the arms and accept a deal while the American forces are still there, they might be shortchanged.

The Taliban trust China and its guarantees that they would not be betrayed. But the Chinese need support from Washington and Kabul. The Quadrilateral Consultative Group process offered the prospect of such a support.  But the Trump administration prefers military option and going it alone, and that also suits Kabul: this way, at least the Americans will likely stay for the long haul.

What is needed is a new relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Only Kabul and Islamabad together can deal with the Taliban, politically if possible, and militarily if necessary. Counterinsurgencies are essentially a governance issue. Afghanistan needs to conciliate the areas under the Taliban control, and Pakistan should help by making its lands inhospitable to them. And both must work on joint border management and resolution of the refugee problem. This is a long-term plan, but it is doable. U.S. engagement with them would be essential to their success, as would be China’s involvement.

But the Trump administration is not thinking in these terms. Instead, Trump has defined the Afghanistan war very narrowly and in immediate terms as a terrorism problem. American soldiers under attack from sanctuaries in Pakistan, rather than the war itself, preoccupies the Trump base. As for the military, it is only thinking of the military solution, and that also highlights the sanctuaries issue. So, right now, U.S. Pakistan relations are stuck, which makes the prospects of any political solution in Afghanistan quite dim.

Touqir Hussain, a former ambassador of Pakistan and diplomatic adviser to the Prime Minister, is adjunct faculty at Georgetown University and Syracuse University.

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