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Trump on Afghanistan: His invitation to India does come with an unpleasant twist in the tail
Updated:Aug 26, 2017
 
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By Nayan Chanda 
 
The seven-month education of the American president has borne a minor fruit. Reading off a teleprompter, Donald Trump admitted that his long-standing demand to end America’s longest war in Afghanistan was not feasible. Since leaving the country to the Taliban would quickly turn Afghanistan into a launch pad for terrorist attacks on the US, he committed US troops to the country for an indefinite period. To reassure his political base (who elected him to pull out of foreign wars to focus on rebuilding America), he emphasised that the forces would only kill terrorists and not engage in “nation building”. Despite his assertion about achieving victory, his engagement-lite has no more chance of success than his predecessor’s 2009 surge of 30,000 troops into Afghanistan.
 
Still, Trump has avoided, at least for now, two policy steps that his recently-fired white nationalist adviser Stephen Bannon recommended. The US is not going to bring American mining companies to tap supposedly a trillion-dollar haul of rare earth minerals like lithium. Access to that resource would make the spending of American blood and treasure worthwhile, the advisers had said. But given that 60% of the territory in question is under Taliban control, it was ruled out as a viable proposition.
 
Secondly, Trump was advised to reduce military expenditures by outsourcing the task of training Afghan troops to private military contractors, ie mercenaries. In the face of strong opposition from the Pentagon, that idea too was shelved. But to avoid openly violating his campaign pledge to withdraw from Afghanistan, President Trump refused to reveal how many additional troops would be sent or for how long: “America’s enemies must never know our plans.” The Pentagon, which requires Congressional approval, has said however, that it is considering sending an additional 4,000 adviser and support troops. Trump would hate to admit it, but this sounds like a policy that Hillary Clinton would have pursued.
 
Trump has stamped his transactional approach to foreign policy by threatening to cut US aid to Pakistan. “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” Trump said. He has called on India to play a greater role in Afghanistan, ignoring Pakistani paranoia about New Delhi’s growing influence on its western border. This opens up opportunities for India to increase its footprint in Afghanistan. But Indians should not view this invitation as evidence that Trump loves them. On the contrary, India is expected to support US efforts out of gratitude: “India makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States, and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan.”
 
Leaders in New Delhi may draw satisfaction from the hard line Trump has taken on Pakistan, but they cannot ignore the fact that despite years of trying to become America’s partner in its own right, India has again been dragged back into a triangular relationship with Pakistan. India’s importance to Washington would be judged by how effective or ineffective it is in serving US interest in Pakistan and Afghanistan. India cannot forget either the elephant in the room in American policy calculations – Pakistan’s possession of 120 or so nuclear warheads and the ever present threat from Islamic militants.
 
India may applaud Trump’s decision to remove restraints on US military operations against the Taliban and their cohorts, but the unbridled application of firepower risks increasing civilian casualties and building more support for the extremists. If Trump’s final goal is to coerce the Taliban to the negotiating table, he will have an even weaker hand (around 12,000 troops) than Obama did with 1,00,000 servicemen and women deployed in Afghanistan. Not only has the dwindling US aid to Pakistan reduced its leverage, China’s massive investment in developing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has emboldened Islamabad to stand up to Washington. Pakistan’s defiant statement offers the proof of a changed environment.
 
 
 
 
 
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