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Afghanistan as US Policy Conundrum-end 2018

Paper No. 6468                   Dated  9-Dec-2018

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Geopolitically in end-2018 the United States finds itself in a policy conundrum on Afghanistan primarily because of the inability of US policy planners to recognise that Afghanistan geographically flanked by Pakistan and Iran as Islamist Sates adversarial to United States complicates effective US embedment in Afghanistan for restoration of stability and security.

Of the two, Pakistan has a sordid record of double-timing the United States and undermining US national security interests in Afghanistan despite US beatification of Pakistan by past US Presidents as ‘Major Non-NATO Ally’ and ‘An Enduring Ally in the US Global War on Terrorism’ Pakistan’s proxy war in Afghanistan against the United States through the Afghan Taliban stands exhaustively recorded. The foregoing stands repetitively reflected in my writings for the last eighteen years.

Iran though at strategic odds with the United States and under US sanctions comparatively did not indulge in large scale proxy wars against the United States in Afghanistan as done by Pakistan. The reasons were three. Presumably the fear of US massive retaliation, the Afghan Taliban perceived as Sunni outfit inimical to Iranian interests and one can daresay that Iran as the predominant regional power in South West Asia had longer policy perspectives of not destabilising its Eastern borders.

Geopolitically in end-2018 the US perspectives on Afghanistan necessarily must incorporate Pakistan’s decided and possibly irretrievable shift into China’s orbit, The US-China Trade War/Cold War, the emergence of China-Pakistan-Russia Trilateral on Afghanistan and the Gulf Region turbulence. In all of the preceding, as pointed out in my Book on China is the reality that Pakistan is no longer ‘US Frontline State Ally’ but has emerged in the last few years as ‘China’s Frontline State Ally’ in South West Asia.

US President Trump’s latest letter to new Pakistan PM Imran Khan seeking Pakistan’s assistance and facilitation in bringing Afghan Taliban to dialogue table marks a U-turn from the stern messaging that President Trump did in January 2018. Implicitly, it signifies two things—either Pakistan has submitted to serve US demands or US fatigue on Afghanistan induced by domestic politics.

The above also needs to be viewed in US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad dash to Islamabad and written testimony by incoming US Commanding General of US Central Command that he wishes to work with Pakistan. How many times has the United States repeated this pattern since 2001?

Analytically therefore, what emerges is the crucial question that the U-Turn in US President Trump’s policy on Pakistan is a “Matter of Choice” or is it a compulsive “Matter of Necessity”. Both carry regional and global implications and it is hoped that after two decades of treachery by Pakistan against US interests in Afghanistan, the United States is not once again resorting to tactical political expediency superseding long range US stakes in Greater South West Asia.

The ground realities do not suggest that the United States U-Turn is prompted by “Matter of Necessity” but by “Matter of Choice” misperceived and ill advised. This carries serious implications for NATO countries and India more specifically as they in their own ways contribute to secure peace and stability in Afghanistan in tandem with US massive effort.

In end-2018, the Afghanistan ground situation presents a policy conundrum to the United States in bringing to the fore two diametrically opposite ground realities existing today.  The first is that the United States has been unable to establish full military control over Afghanistan to facilitate the Afghan democratic regime in Kabul to effectively govern the whole of Afghanistan.

The second ground reality is that the Afghan Taliban which has continued an incessant proxy war against the United Sates embedment in Afghanistan to facilitate return of peace and security in Afghanistan has made no significant victories to achieve a full Taliban sway over Afghanistan prompting a US exit from Afghanistan.

In both of the above, Pakistan and the Pakistan Army more specifically, is the major impediment in United States efforts to restore peace and stability in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban’s military capability to disrupt and worsen the security situation against the United States and the Kabul Regime emerges from military aid and financial support from Pakistan. Since this is irrefutably so, then does the United States wishes that its image in the region as the global provider of security gets tarnished by prostrating before Pakistan?

Interposed in between these two opposite ends of the Afghanistan spectrum is the hovering over Afghanistan are the Chinese and Russian over-arching interests which presently are coincident with those of Pakistan. That is to exploit the US policy conundrum on the 2018 Afghanistan scenario and carve out a joint or singly a process in which they could perceptively emerge as real saviours in Afghanistan people’s eyes who stand victimised by decades of brutal Islamic medieval by the Pakistan Army-Afghan Taliban combine.

Noticeably, China through writings in The Global Times is gloating on President Trump’s perceived U-Turn on Pakistan by writing to Pak PM Imran Khan seeking Pakistan’s assistance and facilitation in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the dialogue process.

China points out that the United States cannot do without Pakistan’s help when it comes to the Afghan Taliban. China could have better added that by extension President Trump and the United States would need China’s help to prevail over Pakistan to cajole Afghan Taliban in participating in Afghan peace process talks.

Russia has been a late entrant in spawning Afghan peace talks in Moscow signifying analytically that Russian perspectives on Afghanistan necessarily may not coincide with those of China. However, Russia carries a lot of heavy baggage on Afghanistan from the years of Soviet Occupation three decades ago.

Contextually therefore, in light of the above, the United States at this stage in end-2018 after spending billions of dollars and thousands of Afghan and US lives can ill afford to reverse gears in Afghanistan and slip into and be ensnared by Pakistan into the old duplicitous template of double-timing the United States on Afghanistan.

The United States to safeguard its image as the sole global Superpower need not deviate from political and military coercion of Pakistan to disown the Afghan Taliban, liquidate Afghan Taliban presence in safe havens in Baluchistan and Frontier Areas of Pakistan.

One of the strongest pressure points that the United States can possibly adopt effectively against Pakistan is that should it not desist from destabilising Afghanistan through Pakistan Army proxies then the United States would be forced to aid the establishment of a Free Balochistan, independent of Pakistan. This may be eventually the only means to discipline Pakistan Army and also end China’s colonial hold over Pakistan. Gwadar Port in Balochistan cannot be allowed to emerge as a Chinese Navy base in the vicinity of the Hormuz Straits.

With China refusing to provide direct financial loans to bail out Pakistan’s tottering economy but only agreeable to make investments in strategic infrastructure in Pakistan, the worsening Pakistan economy would compel Pakistan to crawl to Washington with a begging bowl. The United States and the West should prevail over international financial institutions not to financially assist Pakistan until it disowns, stop military sustenance and liquidates Afghan Talban from Pakistan.

The United States in tandem has a corresponding obligation to finally give up its efforts and initiative’s to induce Afghan Taliban to join the Afghan peace process. Has the United States not learnt any lessons from the Afghan Taliban unyielding demands that it would join the peace process contingent on firm US commitments for a military exit from Afghanistan?

Does the Washington policy establishment not foresee that such demands by Afghan Taliban on the United States are dictated by Pakistan Army and if acceded to by the United States would once again open the floodgates for an Afghan Taliban regime in Kabul which again would force the United States at greater costs for another military intervention in Afghanistan? In that eventuality, the United States would no longer have the support of the Northern Alliance to spearhead US advance on Kabul?

Concluding, one needs to reassert that the costs of a continued United States military embedment in Afghanistan would be nothing in comparison to what the United States would incur if once again the United States to protect its national security interests in Greater South West Asia would be forced for a second displacement of yet another Afghan Taliban regime in Kabul. Ironically, the installation of a second Taliban Regime in Kabul would have been facilitated but for United States short-sighted tactically expedient policies. US President Trump has a major imperative to persist in the major guidelines of his enunciated policy on Afghanistan of continued US military embedment without any time-lines till such time Afghanistan is made militarily capable of independently securing Afghan sovereignty and security against the Taliban and Pakistan Army proxies.