On Monday night, the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, asked Pakistan to knock it off. He vociferously declared that America’s future involvement in Afghanistan will be result-based and not time-based. A timetable for withdrawal was not even mentioned as Trump announced his Afghanistan strategy, which deserves the praise of being one of the best policies designed by the White House. Let´s be clear: Obama´s strategy of “surge and exit by 2014” was a disaster. If you tell the terrorists that you are going to leave, they will wait till you leave.
Afghanistan is viewed as America´s longest war, now in its 16th year. Trump´s speech is bad news for Taliban supporters and those elements in the military in Pakistan, which for a very long time have been allowed to get away with their attempt to play the double game of verbally supporting the war on terror and simultaneously supporting Islamic terrorist groups like the Haqqani network.
The most important conclusion to be drawn after listening to Trump´s announcement is the recognition of the fact that abandoning Afghanistan is not the solution, even though he may have hinted at that during his election campaign. More important than this approach to Afghanistan is his clear statement with regard to Pakistan. Unlike Barack Obama, Trump has decided to directly address the issue of Pakistan´s double game in his address to the nation. He unequivocally condemned Pakistan´s support for Taliban and the Haqqani network while simultaneously receiving large-scale military assistance from US.
Since the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, Pakistan has received billions of dollars in aid from USA alone. But in the future that aid will be directly linked to Pakistan´s willingness to cut its support for the jihadi groups that have killed scores of American soldiers in the past.
What one could hope is that further sanctions would be applied directly to those sections of the Pakistani military and intelligence services which play a direct and indirect role in the clandestine support for the jihadi groups. Pakistan has a difficult case to prove as Osama Bin Laden was caught and killed in Abottabad close to a military garrison. Here the European Union could also co-operate with US and impose travel bans on top military generals who make life miserable for people on the south Asian continent while basking in the sun on the beautiful beaches of Europe and America. No holiday for them if they are caught red-handed.
Lastly, there is no reason to fear the Chinese influence in Pakistan. Pakistan is well aware of the consequences of choosing China over America. Pakistani generals and the elite in Pakistan would rather send their children to US and Europe for further studies than to China.
If Pakistan and India co-operate and see Afghanistan as a territory to be developed and not as an area of contention and competition, much of the conflict in the region can be reduced.
India, Pakistan and Afghanistan can become a strong economic zone, where growth and development would mean improvement of the standard of living for all of its citizens. But it requires a willingness to accept a reconciliation process and give the power back to the common man. The common man in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan does not want war. He wants co-operation.
Trump finally got America’s policy on South Asia right. The million-dollar question is if he will be allowed to walk the talk. Since the time of Zia-ul-Haq in Pakistan, India has been voicing its concern. It kept warning Washington that Bin Laden was in Pakistan and of its double game. The big question is: Will India now trust America? The proof of the pudding is in the eating. If America keeps its promise of demanding closure of all terrorist networks, also those affecting India, then the demand put on India of further engagement with Afghanistan will be seen as positive.
America also needs to put pressure on Europe to get straight with China, which is trying to fill in the gap in Pakistan and doing roaring business in Europe. When it comes to South Asia, America has finally got its policy right. The same cannot be said of the European Union.
Times of India, August 24, 2017