Afghan pull out?

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE -

It may be the right de­ci­sion made for the wrong rea­son and ex­e­cuted in the wrong way. The re­al­ity of Don­ald Trump's pres­i­dency may be stranger than fic­tion, but Mr Trump's lat­est sud­den de­ci­sion - to im­me­di­ately with­draw all US troops from Syria - may be a case of re­verse wag the dog.

Be­sieged at home by an avalanche of in­ves­ti­ga­tions and con­vic­tions of key aides who served dur­ing Mr Trump's cam­paign for the pres­i­dency, the US leader took his own ad­min­is­tra­tion by sur­prise by tweet­ing that the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary cam­paign in Syria has ended.

In do­ing so, Mr Trump, who cam­paigned on a mil­i­tar­ily strong but iso­la­tion­ist for­eign pol­icy, may be try­ing to ap­pease his po­lit­i­cal base, which is roiled by lack of progress on build­ing a wall along the US bor­der with Mex­ico and sundry other crises that his pres­i­dency has been em­broiled in. Nev­er­the­less, the de­ci­sion to with­draw pre­cip­i­tously from Syria is likely to have far-reach­ing con­se­quences - and may even im­pact the on­go­ing in­cip­i­ent di­a­logue process in Afghanistan. The ef­fects of Mr Trump's shock de­ci­sion to with­draw all US troops from Syria will likely in­crease the anx­i­ety of the Afghan govern­ment and that of re­gional and in­ter­na­tional ac­tors. While the US pres­i­dent ap­peared to want to project strength in the fight against the mil­i­tant Is­lamic State group - per­haps in part to dif­fer­en­ti­ate him­self from his pre­de­ces­sor Barack Obama's pol­icy - a cen­tre­piece of the Trump cam­paign was to end the waste­ful wars that the US was fight­ing abroad. And while the US pres­i­dent was per­suaded early on to main­tain and slightly in­crease the US mil­i­tary pres­ence in Afghanistan, it has long been ap­par­ent that Mr Trump has no in­ter­est in or ap­petite for pro­longed mil­i­tary en­gage­ment in Afghanistan on his pres­i­den­tial watch.

That im­pa­tience has ap­peared to man­i­fest it­self in in­ten­sive Amer­i­can diplo­macy in re­cent months to di­rectly en­gage the Afghan Tal­iban in pre­lim­i­nary talks that could pave the way for a peace­ful set­tle­ment in Afghanistan.

Yet, as the most re­cent talks in the UAE this week have demon­strated, the Afghan Tal­iban are re­sis­tant to en­gag­ing with the Afghan govern­ment and are seek­ing the max­i­mum con­ces­sions from the Amer­i­cans, such as pris­oner re­leases and a with­drawal timetable for for­eign troops, with­out nec­es­sar­ily of­fer­ing much in re­turn.

For Pakistan, the chal­lenge has long been to nudge the Afghan Tal­iban to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble for what must ul­ti­mately be an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process. But Mr Trump's de­ci­sion to with­draw from Syria could have the ef­fect of per­suad­ing the Tal­iban that they sim­ply need to stall a lit­tle while longer be­fore Mr Trump reaches the same im­pa­tient con­clu­sion in Afghanistan. A pres­i­dent who of­ten seems dis­con­nected from the poli­cies of the rest of his ad­min­is­tra­tion is a per­plex­ing sce­nario for the world to nav­i­gate, but Pakistan ought to re­main fo­cused on the goal of a peace­ful set­tle­ment in Afghanistan.

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