The entry of Donald Trump to the Oval office has shocked the world opinion and policymakers due to his mercurial demeanor. At present, South Asia, especially Afghanistan, is also under a state of extreme uneasiness due to the forthcoming Afghan policy of Trump administration. This time, Afghanistan that is already in ruins after 17 long years of war, deserves favourable policies from the Americans and NATO members; the policies that may drive the war-ravaged country towards reconstruction and sustainable peace.
Although President Trump is neither a seasoned politician nor a good policymaker, he is unhappy with the ongoing US strategy in Afghanistan. Before his election as the 45th President of the United States, he vehemently criticized Obama’s Afghan policy and emphasized on its assessment and revision. Now, his administration is in the process of reviewing the old policy and draw up a new one for Afghanistan, according to his wishes and designs. Therefore, the US policymaking circles and other concerned officials have for the last few months, been consistently working on this issue but haven’t reached a decision yet.
US military officials who have served in, or have been dealing with, Afghanistan are suggesting a surge of more than five thousand US troops in the country i.e. from 8,400 to 13,400. Another option on the table is of complete withdrawal from Afghanistan. However, the latter option is unlikely to be adopted due to long-term American interests in the region. Third option is privatizing the war and handling it through private contractors or mercenaries of Black Water, Dyne Corps or such other organizations.
Donald Trump is unhappy with General Nicholson’s strategy for commanding NATO forces in Afghanistan and blames that he has failed to win the war in Afghanistan. But, in saying so, Trump seems oblivious to the ground realities in Afghanistan where the war is not conventional; NATO troops are in non-combat mood and are playing the role of only advisors and trainers for the last three years.
Moreover, Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, on the sidelines of a regional conference in the Philippine recently, opined that President Trump wants Afghan strategy to change. Another member of Trump administration and one of his advisors on national security of the White House Sebastian Gorka has also, reportedly, said that “Trump does not want to repeat the mistakes of the past 16 years in Afghanistan”. Moreover, the head of the CIA has travelled to Afghanistan and, after analyzing different aspects, has come up with the proposal of privatizing the Afghanistan war.
The Afghan war was not a major part of the debates during Donald Trump’s electioneering because the Republicans had started this war and the Democrats had failed to end it. Trump has never prioritized this issue in his discussions and meetings and his silence on such a major foreign-policy issue clearly indicates that he is unwilling to continue with the war. That is why Trump administration seeks to revise the US strategy in Afghanistan and for that purpose several senior US officials including a Congressional team have travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan during the recent weeks.
The US war in Afghanistan is the longest and the most expensive war in the US history. Besides losing thousands of its troops and numerous left amputated or handicapped forever, the US has spent more than hundred billion dollars in Afghanistan. But, still more than one-third of the Afghan territory is out of Afghanistan government’s control. Insurgency is unabatedly on the rise. However, the Trump administration is divided over many issues including the privatization of Afghan war.
Another reason behind the delay in the announcement of the new policy is USA’s pivot to the Middle East and its confrontation with Russia and North Korea. The Russian engagement in Afghan affairs is highly unwelcome for the United States and their traditional rivalry in Afghanistan has cast its shadow on the Afghan issue also and has made the Trump administration reluctant in this regard.
Furthermore, ground realities suggest and some Afghans leaders also opine that the US wants to prolong the war for its own vested interests; principal among them being the encirclement of its rivals such as China, Iran and Russia and ensure American access to the mineral resources of Central Asia. Moreover, a thinking is developing among Afghan politicians that the US is also behind the emergence of Daesh in Afghanistan because controlled insurgency and chaos is favourable to US presence and also provides them with legitimacy to stay further in Afghanistan.
Another sensational entry into the debate is an Open Letter from Taliban to President Donald Trump. The letter very comprehensively provides the ground realities and status of Afghan government in current state of affairs. In this letter, the Taliban have warned President Trump that sending more troops to Afghanistan will only add to the number of deaths of US soldiers in Afghanistan. Moreover, it asserts that the “American youth are not born to be killed in the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan in order to establish the writ of thieves and corrupt officials and neither would their parents approve of them killing civilians in Afghanistan.”
This letter is also a clear message from Taliban to the American public and policymakers that the warmongering American generals want only to expand the war in Afghanistan to save their jobs and salaries.
Another point of concern – and in my opinion a delaying factor as well – is that the new strategy is meant for handling New Delhi, Tehran, Islamabad and Kabul under one umbrella, for which preparing a comprehensive and workable strategy is a time-consuming, difficult task. New Delhi is already somewhat under their sway, Tehran is not ready to submit to US pressure under any circumstances, Islamabad is already being blamed for playing double and Afghanistan is America’s wounded hand which cannot be ignored at once. So, to combine the South Asian countries in one basket is not a wise option; rather a workable and acceptable approach for dealing with these states is most direly needed.
In short, preparing a strategy for promoting a culture of peaceful coexistence in the region and favouring a political, negotiated settlement to the Afghan dilemma should be driving factors for the American policymakers. A surge in the number of troops or privatizing the war will not bode well for achieving long-term US objectives in this region. Instead of war and killings, the US should be using soft power and winning hearts and minds of the Afghans.