Trump’s new Afghan strat­egy is doomed to fail­ure

The Miracle - - Middle East - By:Shahid Javed Burki

Out­lin­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s strat­egy for fu­ture US en­gage­ment in Afghanistan, Don­ald Trump avoided ad­mit­ting out­right that he was au­tho­riz­ing an in­crease in the num­ber of troops but the re­al­ity is that the pres­i­dent’s plan will deepen Amer­i­can in­volve­ment in a mil­i­tary mis­sion that has al­ready lasted for 16 years. Trump, who cam­paigned on the prom­ise to ex­tri­cate the US from for­eign con­flicts, said his aim was en­sure that Afghanistan never again be­comes the source of a ter­ror­ist at­tack on the US like that of Septem­ber 11, 2001. Barack Obama and Ge­orge W. Bush sought the same goal. In fact, though Trump at­tempted to por­tray his strat­egy as a stark break from those of his im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sors, many of the steps he an­nounced have been tried al­ready. Nev­er­the­less, there are key dif­fer­ences in Trump’s ap­proach, which will have se­ri­ous long-term con­se­quences for Afghanistan. For starters, Trump has dropped the “na­tion-build­ing” el­e­ment of Amer­ica’s Afghan strat­egy. Crit­i­ciz­ing pre­vi­ous ef­forts to “re­build coun­tries” in Amer­ica’s “own im­age,” rather than putting US se­cu­rity in­ter­ests first, Trump as­serted that the US will no longer en­gage in ex­plicit state-build­ing, aimed at help­ing Afghanistan to be­come a rel­a­tively mod­ern po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic en­tity. It will, how­ever, de­mand that the Afghan gov­ern­ment deal ef­fec­tively with cor­rup­tion, im­prove gov­er­nance and make bet­ter use of the re­sources it re­ceives from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. Sec­ond, Trump brought Pak­istan much more ex­plic­itly into his Afghan pol­icy than Bush or Obama did, ar­gu­ing that the coun­try will face sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased US pres­sure to crack down on the ter­ror­ist sanc­tu­ar­ies along its bor­der, from which in­sur­gents launch at­tacks on Afghan and NATO forces. If Pak­istan fails to do so, Trump de­clared, it will “have much to lose.” Al­ready, Trump has deter­mined that Pak­istan should no longer be paid for pro­vid­ing valu­able ser­vices to Amer­i­can, NATO and Afghan forces, and has even blocked a large pay­ment to the coun­try that was al­ready due. Fi­nally, Trump has in­vited In­dia to play a larger role in Afghanistan, de­spite the risks In­dia faces in a coun­try that Pak­istan views as a sec­ond front in its his­toric strug­gle with its south­ern neigh­bor. Trump ap­pre­ci­ates what In­dia has al­ready done, but is urg­ing it to do even more, us­ing its vast earn­ings from ex­ports to the US to help re­build Afghanistan’s econ­omy. He also sug­gested that the US will work with In­dia to cre­ate an Indo-Pa­cific se­cu­rity zone. In any case, it seems that the po­ten­tial for US-In­dia se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion in the re­gion, while only hinted at in Trump’s speech, has al­ready been dis­cussed by the two gov­ern­ments. The im­pli­ca­tions of Trump’s speech ex­tend be­yond Amer­ica’s pol­icy in Afghanistan. The ad­dress also sharp­ened the con­tours — al­ready out­lined dur­ing his May visit to Saudi Ara­bia and his July visit to Poland — of what might be called the “Trump doc­trine.” Trump, it seems, sees a world split be­tween the West and the “rest,” with con­flict all but in­evitable. In Saudi Ara­bia, Trump in­vited Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries to join the West in elim­i­nat­ing ad­her­ents of Is­lamist rad­i­cal­ism. In Poland, he chal­lenged the West to demon­strate its will to re­sist the im­pact phys­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal of its ad­ver­saries. Trump is not tar­get­ing only the Mus­lim world. His speech on Afghanistan also pointed to his ef­forts to con­tain China. While Trump seemed briefly to be more in­ter­ested in se­cur­ing the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment’s help in rein­ing in North Korea, Trump seems ea­ger, now that the North Korean nu­clear cri­sis has ap­par­ently been re­turned to the back burner, to re­sume his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fo­cus on con­strain­ing the Asian gi­ant. But the Trump doc­trine seems no more ca­pa­ble of lim­it­ing China than it does of elim­i­nat­ing the ter­ror­ist threat to the West. In fact, in the long term, it will prob­a­bly have the op­po­site ef­fect. If mil­i­tary force has not suc­ceeded in sta­bi­liz­ing Afghanistan in the past 16 years, it is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine how Trump thinks it will work now. What is needed is pre­cisely what Trump rejects: a se­ri­ous and sus­tained ef­fort to build the Afghan state and econ­omy, in or­der to give hope to Afghanistan’s young population (the me­dian age is only 18.6). Young men will lay down their weapons only if they have con­fi­dence in the fu­ture. More­over, cor­ner­ing Pak­istan will serve only to force its gov­ern­ment to align it­self more openly with groups such as the Haqqani net­work. This would strengthen in­sur­gent groups’ con­trol over bor­der ar­eas, ef­fec­tively cre­at­ing a buf­fer state be­tween Afghanistan and Pak­istan. As fund­ing from the US de­clines, Pak­istan will prob­a­bly also deepen its ties with China. It has al­ready sent its for­eign min­is­ter to Bei­jing to meet her Chi­nese coun­ter­part. Af­ter the meet­ing, China pledged to­tal and un­con­di­tional sup­port to Pak­istan. If the goal of the Trump doc­trine is to cre­ate a sta­ble global back­drop against which Amer­ica can pur­sue its own in­ter­ests, it is doomed to fail. In fact, it is likely to have the op­po­site ef­fect, un­leash­ing a desta­bi­liz­ing ge­nie that will be al­most im­pos­si­ble to put back in its bot­tle. • Shahid Javed Burki, for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter of Pak­istan and vice pres­i­dent of the World Bank, is cur­rently chair­man of the Shahid Javed Burki In­sti­tute of Pub­lic Pol­icy in La­hore.

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