Impact of Trump’s Policy on Afghanistan and South Asia

Impact of Trump’s Policy on Afghanistan and South Asia

This is a guest blog by Aneesh.

US President Donald Trump announced his first comprehensive policy of the US on Afghanistan and South Asia in August. The much-awaited policy announcement came eight months after Trump became the US president and after criticism from some US lawmakers that he was struggling to make a decision. While many security and foreign policy analysts have criticized Trump for lacking a clear-cut strategy, it cannot be denied that this policy has the potential to alter the geopolitical balance in the volatile region.

Highlights

  1. No withdrawal in sight. New motto is ‘Fight to Win’.
  2. Defend America from its enemies abroad. Steadfast in protecting American lives and American interests. Retribution will be fast and powerful.
  3. Work with allies and partners to protect our shared interests.
  4. Avoid the mistakes made in withdrawing from Iraq.
  5. Support for Afghanistan ‘not a blank cheque’.
  6. Appreciate India’s contribution in bringing stability in Afghanistan. Will develop a deeper strategic partnership with India, but want India to help US more in Afghanistan.
  7. A shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions.
  8. America will not tell Afghanistan how to rule its complex country. Afghans will secure and build their own nation, and define their own future. We want them to succeed.
  9. America will continue its support to Afghanistan and it’s military to counter Taliban.
  10. A hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan would create a vacuum that terrorists – including ISIS and al-Qaeda — would instantly fill.
  11. Pakistan has been a safe haven for terrorists. Pakistani people have also suffered from extremists and terrorists.
  12. Its time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to fight terror.
  13. Must stop nuclear weapons from falling into wrong hands. The threat is worse because Pakistan and India are two nuclear-armed states whose tense relations threaten to spiral into conflict.

Implications of Trump’s Policy

Afghanistan

The Afghan government has welcomed the United States’ continued engagement in their country, and also the fact that finally a US administration has officially recognized Pakistan as a major problem – something that Afghan officials have been repeatedly pointing at.

There was universal positive reception from the Afghan leadership to Trump’s comments. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani welcomed the “enduring commitment” through the new strategy which he indicated “increases capacity in the Resolute Support Mission”.

Afghan spokesperson stated that the Afghan president would be happy with the thrust of the strategy: more troops, more time and more support for his government in exchange for unspecified results and reforms.

But will Trump really put pressure on Islamabad? And more importantly, what leverage does the US have on Pakistan to make it comply with its demands?

Pakistan

Pakistan, naturally, is angered by Trump’s claims that it harbours terrorists which make it difficult for the US to succeed in Afghanistan. The government and opposition parties slammed the US president and even threatened that their country could choose to break ties with Washington.  Pakistan is confident that the US would continue to rely on its “assistance” in the Afghan war. Washington has so far cooperated with Pakistan knowing the sanctions or unilateral aerial attacks on the militants’ hideouts in the country could further destabilize the nuclear-armed nation with high anti-West sentiments.

US-Pak ties have been tense since former Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden’s killing in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad in 2011. After Trump’s policy speech, the differences have become official.  At the same time, some Pakistani analysts say it is in the interest of Islamabad to also keep the Trump administration on its side.

Pakistan has no intention of not interfering in Afghanistan and definitely intends to resist India’s influence there.

Knowing that Washington’s reliance on Pakistan was diminishing, Islamabad has already forged closer ties with Beijing. Now that China is investing heavily in Pakistan – the multibillion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is one example of this partnership – Pakistan also feels less dependent on the US.

India

There was not much zeal among Indian officials for dwelling upon the quirks in the statement. Rather, they point out that Trump had asked India to specifically provide only economic and development assistance which is already ongoing.

When asked how India could step up further assistance, experts suggest that India could provide direct budgetary assistance to the Afghan government, which is facing a severe revenue shortfall. In the early years of the Hamid Karzai administration, India used to directly provide budgetary funds, but it was later stopped in favour of developing infrastructure projects.

However, due to the bureaucratic process of decision making, the release of adequate funds is not guaranteed. Further, officials point out that Afghanistan’s unique environment also makes the execution of projects much slower than the norm.

India has already given $2 billion in development assistance to Afghanistan. Last year, the prime minister announced a fresh $1 billion worth of aid, but it had no time limit on spending. This year, India has allotted ₹ 350 crore in its budget for 2017-18.

Conclusion

Trump has sought an important and enduring outcome, the contours of which remain unknown. The new policy has been criticized outside Pakistan also – but mainly for its lack of transparency. It also supports giving a free hand or authority for carrying out operations in Afghanistan. This, many have argued, may be misused for nasty activities and widen the war. Under the name of a war on terror, these activities may also be used to counter countries like Russia, Iran, China, etc. It is feared that Afghanistan will possibly become a playing ground for these countries.

Peace activists urge India and Pakistan to not become a party to the US-Chinese rivalry and the global powers’ strategic interests in Afghanistan and Central Asia. India will have to tread carefully in the shifting sands of Afghanistan and the region. Rather than rushing into the American embrace, its primary objective must be to fulfill its obligations as Kabul’s strategic partner.

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