The New Policy Unveiled

On 21 August, President Trump finally unveiled his Government’s New Policy on Afghanistan (terming it as Strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia), exactly seven months after taking over as President. This period involved hectic discussions on all issues with the President asking for constant reviews while private contractor companies tried to get themselves involved in the action also. During this period varied solutions offered by severalpoliticians, researchers and thinkersincluded questioning the futility of staying in Afghanistan and propping up a Regional force while some said it was a situation where US was stuck in limbo.President Trump had remarked in his speechthat his first instinct was to pull out of Afghanistan[i].

The New Policy openly put the blame on Pakistan for its support to the Taliban. The major highlights of the New Policy[ii]are:-

  1. A shift from a time-based approach to one based on ground conditions.
  2. Integration of all diplomatic, economic & military instruments of American power toward a successful outcome. 
  3. Acceptance of a political settlement with Taliban but no invitation for the same; present stance against Taliban to continue till then.
  4. Aim is not nation building but killing terrorists.
  5. Change of approach against Pakistan with direct reference to the safe havens given by Pakistan to Taliban terrorists as well as a connect between US funding and Pakistan’s change in behaviour.
  6. Furtherance of Strategic Partnership with India for US’s South Asia concerns and more economic & developmental assistance asked from India in Afghanistan.
  7. Afghanistan asked to take on its share of the military, political, and economic burden as well as show determination and progress to continue taking US support. 


Regional Reactions to the New Policy

Afghanistan received the Policy favourably with President Ghani saying both, the US’s interests and that of Afghanistan, are secure in the new strategy[iii]. He also said it was now time for Pakistan to change its approach and that Afghanistan had never taken steps to destabilize Pakistan. He asked the Taliban to forget about winning the war and bringing down the government and again called on them to join the peace process.

Pakistan had strong reactions with COAS Gen QamarJavedBajwa meeting US Ambassador David Hale immediately and informing him that Pakistan did not want material or financial assistance from the US, but needed to be trusted and treated with respect[iv]. PTI (Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf) Chairman Imran Khan said US President Donald Trump had no understanding of the South Asian Region or the dynamics of the 'war on terror’[v]. He also questioned the role allotted to India in Afghanistan in the Policy and said "Over 150,000 NATO soldiers were deployed in Afghanistan (by America), billions were spent, thousands of Afghans were killed. The world's most powerful military machinery could not control (the situation in Afghanistan) and Pakistan is being held responsible for the failures". He asked what America would accomplish by deploying thousands more troops in Afghanistan when those already stationed there had not been able to win the war.Some other politicians in Pakistan called for cutting off US supply routes to Afghanistan to teach Washington a lesson while others wanted the country's Foreign Minister to scrap a proposed visit to the US to register a protest[vi].

China defended its ally Pakistan[vii] with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying saying Pakistan was on the front line in the struggle against terrorism and had made “great sacrifices” and “important contributions” in the fight. ''We need to value Pakistan's important role on the Afghanistan issue, and respect Pakistan's sovereignty and reasonable security concerns,'' China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi told the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a phone call[viii]. In addition, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said in a briefing ''The Chinese side is willing to maintain communication and coordination with the United States on the Afghan issue and make concerted efforts for achieving the peace and stability of Afghanistan and the region at large''.

In India the Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement “We welcome President Trump’s determination to enhance efforts to overcome the challenges facing Afghanistan and confronting issues of safe havens and other forms of cross-border support enjoyed by terrorists.” Some former diplomats also said that the call for an end to Pakistan’s involvement in terrorism in Afghanistan and Mr. Trump's support for an Afghanistan-led peace process addressed a core concern of India[ix]. Former Indian envoy to Kabul, Amar Sinha said Mr. Trump had put Pakistan on notice and his declaration of a new wave of attacks against Taliban and other terror groups ended distinctions like ‘good Taliban’ and ‘bad Taliban’. “Unlike his two immediate predecessors, President Trump has indicated that the US campaign in Afghanistan willnot be calendar driven and that the US forces willstay in the country as long as necessary. This is a very clear enunciation of the US policy objectives, which is based on the security needs of the region”, Mr. Sinha said, adding that by demanding “immediate” end to support to terror groups by Pakistan, Mr. Trump had made a strong point[x].        — would likely introduce an “uneasy dynamic” to the India-US relationship going forward[xi].



Implementation is the Key

Though the New Policy will adversely affect the Taliban who desperately tried to influence President Trump with an open letter before he made the announcement, there are many issues to be considered beforethe New Policy makes any considerable changeson ground.

An increase by approximately 3000-4000 troops by US may not make any material difference barring increasing advisors in some Afghan formations and provision of air support to two battlefields simultaneously (currently only one operation at a time can be supported)[xii].

It is difficult to say if the hard line taken by President Trumpagainst Pakistan will lead Pakistan to draw back or double down on its support for the Taliban, but the President's tougher line is reflective of the long mounting frustration with Pakistani behavior throughout the American national security establishment[xiii]. Though already signs were there of Pakistan joining hands with Russia on the Afghan issue and China is already its greatest ally, chances of further push in those directions are also definitely there.

By not putting the aspect of talks with the Taliban on the table, President Trump has effectively denied Pakistan another manoeuvre element in its Afghan strategy as the controls are invariably with Pakistan[xiv]. In addition, asking India to be major catalyst in improving Afghanistan economy and development will make Pakistan feel threatened and may also raise the hackles in China. Maybe the aim of announcing it was for the same reasons as it is obvious developmental work can only progress after the security situation is stable. Finally, whether US will actually cut funding or impose sanctions on Pakistan and will “walk the talk” with Pakistan, only time will tell.

As for India, although it has welcomed President Donald Trump’s new assertive policy in Afghanistan, it is apparently happy at the opportunity opened up by theNew Policy to raise India’s profile in Afghanistan and it likely to use it accordingly[xv].



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Ratanjit Singh
Senior Fellow
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