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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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Donald Trump’s threatening tweet by Brig Gen(Retd)Asif Haroon Raja

 

Donald Trump’s threatening tweet

Brig Gen(Retd) Asif Haroon Raja

 

 

 

Pakistan was made an ally by the USA in September 2001 to fight its war on terror as a frontline State but was treacherously subjected to biggest ever covert war to destabilize, de-Islamize and denuclearize it. For the success of covert operations launched by RAW-NDS combine backed by CIA, MI-6, Mossad and BND from Afghan and Iran soils in FATA and Baluchistan from 2003 onwards, Pakistan was subjected to a willful propaganda campaign to demonize and discredit it by painting it as the most dangerous country of the world. It was subjected to a barrage of unsubstantiated accusations that it was in collusion with terrorist groups. It was also alleged that Pakistan’s nuclear program was unsafe and might fall into wrong hands. Allegations and denunciations were made by Bush regime as well as Obama regime and Pakistan was constantly asked to do more. The policy of ‘Do More’ was a clever ploy to bleed Pakistan as well as to tarnish its image and thus weaken it from within. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The latest narrative framed against Pakistan by Donald Trump regime is that it is continuing to provide safe havens to Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network and is chiefly responsible for the instability in Afghanistan. It ignored Pakistan’s colossal sacrifices and brilliant successes achieved against the foreign-funded and equipped terrorists. On August 22, 2017, Trump subjected Pakistan to severest denunciation and threats while pronouncing his Afghanistan policy. He reiterated his stance while elucidating his national security policy last month. Trump, Secretary Defence Rex Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence have rejected Pakistan’s explanations and hurled threats of aid cut, sanctions and losing territory if it fails to abide by the US dictates. The old allegation that Pakistan’s nuclear assets are unsafe has again been repeated and Pakistan put on notice.  In other words, a clear-cut narrative has been framed to validate punitive action against Pakistan. The threat of unilateral action has been sounded by the USA to force Pakistan to fight its war and help the US in converting its defeat into victory.

On January 1, Trump gave a New Year gift by tweeting: The US has foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe havens to terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more”.

Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, in response to Donald Trump’s tweet, said that Pakistan was not worried as it had already refused to ‘do more’ for the US. “We have already told the US that we will not do more, so Trump’s ‘no more’ does not hold any importance,”. “Pakistan is ready to publicly provide every detail of the US aid that it has received.” Asif tweeted. “Will let the world know the truth….difference between facts & fiction.” He added that any drone attacking Pakistan’s urban centres will be shot down.  

Pakistan Foreign Office summoned US Ambassador David Hale and lodged its protest against US President Donald Trump’s tweet wherein he accused Pakistan of “lies and deceit” and used undiplomatic threatening language against an ally.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has summoned a meeting of the National Security Committee on 3rd January. He will chair the huddle to discuss the future course of action following the US President’s scathing statement against Pakistan.

None appreciated Trump’s weird tweet inside and outside the USA except for India, which is rejoicing and is terming Trump as the best President the US has had since ages. I was asked for comments by IndiaTimesNow but got thoroughly disappointed by my curt reply that, ‘Pakistan is quite used to ups and downs in its relationship with the USA, but mercifully it has got out of the US magic spell, and it no more yearns for US aid, and that it is now India’s turn, which is in the tight embrace of USA, to face the music. I also rubbished the claim of $33 billion and added that Pakistan lost $123 billion in the US imposed war besides 70,000 human casualties.  

Comic replies given to Trump’s tweet read: “Change your diaper and go to bed”. “Piss off, you are drunk”. “When is your Tee time today? Fool! Didn’t you tweet about how you were building a good relationship with Pakistan and were thankful for their cooperation? O yeah, that was all of two weeks ago. You are pathological. Please resign”.

The US is hell-bent to scapegoat Pakistan in order to hide its enormous failures in Afghanistan. While Pakistan has cleared all the safe havens and strongholds of TTP despite its leadership enjoying a complete safe haven in Kunar, Nuristan and Nangarhar, NATO has ceded over 47% Afghan territory to Afghan Taliban.

It is time for the US to accept its fault lines and fight its own war, or else accept its defeat gracefully, patch up with the Taliban and find a political solution instead of scapegoating Pakistan, and beat a hasty retreat from the quagmire it has got stuck. The US must remember that it buckled down before Lilliputian North Korea which is an emerging nuclear power but is now foolishly vying to lock horns with a full-fledged nuclear power, which is the height of foolhardiness.   

A highly dangerous situation has been created for Pakistan already grappling with multiple internal challenges. Ongoing political turmoil as a result of gang up of opposition political cum religious parties/groups in their bid to put the Federal and Punjab governments in the dock has further vitiated the atmosphere and made Pakistan more vulnerable to exploitation by enemies of Pakistan. The people are suspecting that ongoing political disorder in Pakistan.  They feel that All Parties Conference chaired by Tahirul Qadri on December 30 in which deadline was given to Shahbaz to quit by 7th January or face sit-ins all over the country is also the handiwork of partners in crime working in cahoots with the puppet regime in Kabul.

The US-Saudi and the US-India strategic partnerships are impelling both Iran and Pakistan to gravitate towards China and Russia and explore avenues to form a unified block in conjunction with the Central Asian States to counter the US imperialist designs. 

The writer is a retired Brig Gen, a war veteran, defence and security analyst, columnist, author of five books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, Chief Editor Better Morrow magazine.                  

 

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