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Realist strategy: Trump’s new Afghanistan plan puts much-needed squeeze on Pakistan

Aug 23, 2017
In a marked departure from his campaign rhetoric, US President Donald Trump has outlined his new Afghanistan strategy that favours realism over politics. Reversing the previous Obama administration’s approach that was focussed on drawing down American troops, the new plan authorises the deployment of an additional 4,000 soldiers to train and buttress Afghan forces. Trump is right in assessing that a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan would create a vacuum for terrorists, including the Afghan branch of Islamic State (IS), to fill. This is precisely what happened with Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq that led to the rise of IS.
 
Obama’s Afpak policy didn’t work for a number of reasons. Announcing deadlines for a drawdown made it easy for the Taliban to wait out the Americans. Secondly, it is next to impossible to defeat an insurgency which has safe havens, and Pakistan provided those havens. The new Trump policy seeks to address both. It will not focus on deadlines but on actual ground conditions. Thirdly, Trump put Pakistan on notice for providing safe havens to terror groups. Part of the problem of the US policy in Afghanistan has been Washington’s over-reliance on Islamabad. This has allowed the Pakistanis to shelter terror groups.
 
Trump has said this situation needs to change. It is in Pakistan’s best interest that it stops providing safe havens and succour to terrorists. If it refuses to do so, the Trump strategy promises that the full panoply of available diplomatic, economic and military instruments will be used in concert to achieve this outcome. Sustained pressure along these lines is bound to yield results. It’s good that Trump has acknowledged India’s role in Afghan stability and development. To buttress the new strategy Trump should also not rock the boat with Iran, which too has a stake in Afghan stability.
 
Times of India, August 23, 2017

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