About two weeks have passed since US President Donald Trump announced his new Afghanistan policy, with a call to Pakistan to close off the sanctuaries for the terror groups. Trump’s hint obviously was at the Taliban that operates from Pakistan territory to attack US and Afghan government targets in Afghanistan. Pakistan is certainly not pleased by the highly negative reference. However, informed sources have revealed that for several months before Trump finalized and announced his Afghanistan policy, high military officers of the US had been making visits to Pakistan to meet the army chief General Qamar Bajwa and other senior military officers in order to convey to them that Trump wanted Islamabad to shut off the terror havens for the Afghan Taliban. Although the Pakistani army publicly denies they are harbouring Taliban, the US emissaries expected General Bajwa not to maintain the same line in their discussions with them. It is hardly surprising therefore that the US no longer trusts Pakistan to act against the Taliban that is undermining the US Afghan campaign. And that is why Donald Trump in his speech on Afghan policy berated Pakistan openly.
The surprise of surprises in Donald Trump’s speech on Afghan policy was his open invitation to India, the arch enemy of Pakistan, to help US efforts to restore peace in Afghanistan. There could not be anything worse for Pakistan than the US wanting India in place of Pakistan. It is not only the US, but the entire NATO community, that no longer trusts Pakistan. Trump’s Afghan policy presents India a chance to increase sphere of influence in South Asia, a prospect Pakistan would try all means to undermine. However, the Pakistani army and Pakistani political leadership are caught up in a dilemma. On one hand, Trump threatens with a statement, “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe heavens for terrorist organisations,’’ adding: ‘’But that will have to change. And that will change immediately.’’ The implication is that ultimately the US could impose sanctions on Pakistan. The US gives billions of dollars in economic and military aid to Pakistan. Imposing of sanctions would mean Pakistan would also lose support and trade from NATO member nations and other countries as well.
Trump has gone further and that has hurt Pakistan even more severely. He said the US would “further develop its strategic partnership with India’’ and asked India to contribute more to stabilise Afghanistan. There are many who might deduce from this that Trump is leveraging partnership with India in order to contain China. China has been an all-weather ally of Pakistan and has often been the only country to echo Pakistan’s assertion that the country has been doing a lot to put down terrorism and in fact many innocent Pakistani citizens had lost their lives in terror attacks. However, a US-India strategic partnership to contain China is not something coming up in the near future. What Trump is talking about is his expectation that India would more actively be part of the US Afghan settlement campaign. Here India has a chance.
India has taken a number of diplomatic and economic initiatives in Afghanistan in the past one decade, enhancing its role in the development of the war-torn country. India has given Afghanistan more than $2bn worth of aid and infrastructure projects. Several high-level meetings have been held between India and Afghanistan on key issues concerning the war-torn country and the South Asian region. The growing relationship between India and Afghanistan was seen as a threat to Pakistan and that is one reason why the Pakistani leadership has been fostering and fomenting terror inside the territories of Afghanistan and India with greater vigour.
Pakistan had been hoping that the Afghan Taliban attacks in Afghanistan and Islamabad-bred terror groups’ strikes in Jammu and Kashmir would drive the US to “negotiate” a kind of deal with them. In This deal, Pakistan would agree not to allow havens to the Afghan Taliban in exchange for the US commitment to press for a negotiated settlement between India and Pakistan of the Kashmir issue. However, Pakistan’s calculations have gone awry. Trump decided to draw India further into Afghanistan and has shown no appreciation of Pakistan’s strategic concerns or worries about larger Indian presence in Afghanistan. The question now is how India will use Trump’s Afghan policy to its advantage. As far as military engagement is concerned, it is a no-no for India. It has learnt a bitter lesson in Sri Lanka. Where India can play a larger role is in developing Afghanistan economically. Trump’s strategy aims to fight the Taliban with a bigger force and to bring to a negotiating table. India can play a role as a peace broker too.