What’s wrong with America’s Afghan policy?

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (R) shakes hands with former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after a joint press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan on May 12, 2015. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Tuesday that a peaceful Afghanistan would benefit Pakistan and Islamabad supports the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process (File)

Those who have watched Afghanistan, since the show of America’s aerial might in October 2001 killing Afghans and their little innocent children, were puzzled over the US strategy when American forces allowed Al Qaeda Chief Osama bin Laden, his followers and thousands of Afghan Taliban escape to tribal area of Pakistan knowing it very well what threat they could pose to Afghanistan….writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif 

For the past about 17 years the United States has been massively funding Afghanistan without seriously assessing its strategy in this country.  During these many years, 2,220 US military men and civilians have been killed and 20,048 have been wounded in that country according to a research paper prepared by Anthony H. Cordesman and published by the reputed American think tank, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). The dollar cost is whopping.  Cordesman writes “…… if one looks at the full range of costs, including veterans benefits, interest payments, and other costs, the real total cost is already well in excess of $1.3 trillion”.  He writes the Afghan War has received little attention in both American political debates and in media coverage. There is too little debate over what is happening and over US strategy, he writes.

Those who have watched Afghanistan, since the show of America’s aerial might in October 2001 killing Afghans and their little innocent children, were puzzled over the US strategy when American forces allowed Al Qaeda Chief Osama bin Laden, his followers and thousands of Afghan Taliban escape to tribal area of Pakistan knowing it very well what threat they could pose to Afghanistan. Again showing no concern for Afghanistan, the US practically abandoned this country in March, 2003 to get engaged in Iraq.

Former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai decried the US move by saying: “We have been left high and dry”. During US engagement in Iraq, the down-and-out Taliban reorganised themselves, captured some Afghan areas and become a force with the conviction that final victory belonged to them. The conviction was further strengthened when President Barack Obama unfolded an escapist strategy to begin withdrawing American combat units in Afghanistan from 2014.

The stated objective of US action in Afghanistan in 2001, among other things, was to make this country a peaceful modern, democratic and economically prosperous state.  But the US strategy did not seem to be based on a thorough understanding of the nation and the mindset of Pakistan which in the garb of an ally considered these objectives poison to its own security and ideology. Therefore, unless the Pakistani objectives are abandoned, terrorism in Afghanistan will continue and political strategy and economic prosperity will remain an illusion.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj

One wonders what lessons the Americans have deduced if they have studied the teaching material in Pakistani Madrasas and government schools, where most Pakistani children go and finish their education.  Thanks to this education, the common Pakistani thinks that peace with Afghanistan, India and Iran will be tantamount to national defeat.

American pampering of Pakistan made it near impossible for this country to realise its psychopathic character. In fact the US encouraged this character by arming it to feed its security mindedness. No attention was given to health, education and communication quality in the country.  Things were made worse in the 1980s when the US used Pakistan’s then military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq to lay a network of Madarsas to teach militancy to fight Soviet troops in Afghanistan.  The Taliban came out from these Madarsas, who in 1996 occupied Afghanistan.

After the end of the Cold War, it was hoped that Pakistan would return to normalcy with no US arms and dollars coming to its Army. But no, after 2001 the US again began pouring arms and dollars to Pakistan now for fighting terrorism.  But now Pakistan had already learnt the usage of terrorism in national interest and chalked out its Afghan policy during the US-sponsored “Jihad” against the Soviet troops in the 1980.

Pakistan installed the Taliban into power in Afghanistan in 1996 and in 2001 pleaded in vain with the US not remove the Taliban from power for having harboured Al Qaeda, which had organised the aerial attack in New York and Washington in September 2001. It was certainly a US gesture to Pakistani sentiments that it allowed thousands of the Taliban and Al Qaeda Chief Osama bin Laden and his entourage to escape from Afghanistan to bordering Pakistan’s tribal areas for safe havens.  At the same US planes killed thousands of innocent children and their parents to show the might of their air power.

Between 2001 and now we see a hilarious comedy in which Pakistan has taken uncle Sam’s largesse for granted.  It also knows that Uncle Sam’s “do-more” chorus is of no meaning. On the contrary, then US President George Bush gave Pakistan the Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) status in 2004.

Cordesman in his paper writes that “Pakistan is still a sanctuary for the Taliban and Haqqani network and more of a threat than an ally”. He suggests that “the United States should make it clear to Pakistan that it faces a total end to aid, and the imposition of sanctions, if it continues to support the Taliban and tolerate the Haqqani network. Russia should be told that any end to U.S. sanctions will depend on it not supporting the Taliban, and the Unites States should reach out to China to make it clear that Chinese cooperation in dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan can serve both Chinese and U.S. interests”.

The US policy of appeasement towards Pakistan’s paranoiac interests is to a great extent responsible for the Afghan malaise.  But in the light of President Donald Trump’s speeches during the Presidential election campaign one can expect result-oriented US strategies now. Before hi, the US President has the recommendations of US Commander in Afghanistan Gen John Nicholson to send 3,000 to 5,000 more troops to Afghanistan.  As if to strengthen these recommendations, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis says “We’re not going to surrender civilisation to people who cannot win the ballot …..”.  Secretary of State Rex Tiller son said: “we can never allow Afghanistan to become a platform for terrorism to operate from.” Mattis’ statement indicates that President Trump’s government will not approve of any settlement with the Taliban in which they (the Taliban) do not agree to submit themselves to the ballot box.

Also, under President Trump, the Af-Pak tie-up may not be continued. The US Special Envoy for Af-Pak Laurel Miller has resigned and gone back to another renowned US think tank Rand Corporation.  Secretary of State Tillerson has not yet filled up the vacancy of that post. This gives an impression that the US wants to deal with Pakistan as a separate entity. It would be interesting to observe that in the coming months whether the Trump administration would go by the dominant thinking in the US think tanks regarding the Afghan imbroglio or would continue the policy of pampering Pakistan.