Aimed at achieving ‘a successful outcome’ in Afghanistan by ‘integrating all instruments of American power - diplomatic, economic, and military’, President Donald Trump formally unveiled the much-awaited, and rather much-hyped, the US Afghan strategy last week. Identifying the AfPak region a hub of US-designated foreign terrorist organizations, he accused Pakistan of giving safe haven to ‘agents of chaos, violence, and terror’. He also vowed to ‘prevent nuclear weapons and materials from coming into the hands of terrorists’.’No place is beyond the reach of American might and American arms’, he reminded.

Since the most crucial ‘pillar’ of new US strategy in our region essentially relates to Pakistan, this strategy can aptly be termed a ‘Pakistan strategy’. It has simply tried to answer the US’s typical how-to-deal-with-Pakistan question in some way. This strategy is apparently based on the assumption that Pakistan is primarily responsible for the current underlying Afghan woes. It is quite worrisome that now the US has started pointing finger at Pakistan and its state institutions for supporting and harbouring terrorists as part of its state policy. Previously, the US has only been asking Pakistan to act against terrorists by destroying their sanctuaries on its soil. So it is a new ‘don’t do that’ commandment rather the typical ‘do more’ mantra by the US. The tone and tenor of President Trump during his recent speech somehow predicts the future trajectory of the troubled Pak-US relations.

I just had a strange feeling of déjà vu while listening to Trump’s policy speech last week. It seemed as if Indian PM Narendra Modi had readily launched his signature diatribe against Pakistan in his popular fashion. President Trump just looked like Modi , who had constantly been blaming Pakistan for ‘harbouring, supporting and sponsoring terrorists’ to ‘export terrorism’ to other countries in the region. Thus it looked as if the spirit of the South Asian Hindutva leader had managed to stay in American President’s body; making both dedicated souls reach the metaphysical state of ‘unity of existence’. It is really unfortunate that President Trump has decided to play an instrumental role in advancing Indian agenda in this region at American tax payers’ expense.

President Trump and PM Modi are active protagonists of their respective racist ideologies - White Supremacism and Hindutva. Both are also best known for jingoism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and discrimination against minorities. Now their ‘shared vision’ on Pakistan has brought them even closer to each other. So the ‘birds of a feather’ are all set to flock together in this region. Over a period of time, the US and India developed close strategic relations. Now the US has also granted India the elite Major Defense Partner status, enabling the latter to have access to a wide range of sophisticated so-called dual-use technologies. Indeed now the Trump-Modi binary will help further garnish this Indo-US ‘strategic cake’.

As critical part of his new South Asia strategy, President Trump has hinted at further strengthening America’s partnership with India in Afghanistan. In fact, the ‘world’s largest democracy’ has already consolidated its position in Afghanistan with the extensive support of the US. Now it seems the US wants India to control and monitor Afghanistan to safeguard its broader strategic interests in the region once it pulls all US troops out of Afghanistan. Certainly, this policy suits both countries at the moment. However, this policy is bound to fail as it is not based on the ground realties in Afghanistan.

It is naive to believe that India would manage to hold Afghanistan as the US itself has already failed to do so despite fighting the ‘longest and most expensive war’ in Afghanistan. The US-backed Afghan government is rapidly losing the areas under its control to Taliban and other insurgent groups. According to a recent report by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the incumbent Afghan government currently ‘controls or influences’ only 57% of Afghan territory. If the US can’t stay in Afghanistan for a long time without Pakistan’s support, how can Pakistan’s arch-foe mange to control Afghanistan against its will and wishes? Indeed this is a crucial question for the US military strategists in Afghanistan.

So far, Pakistan’s has failed to befittingly and appropriately respond to Trump’s recent anti-Pakistan tirade. Indeed, Pakistan should thoughtfully and carefully devise its future strategy to engage the US. However, at the same time, Pakistan should have made a prompt and strong initial reaction to Trump’s so-called South Asian strategy. Just like China, Russia and Iran, Pakistan also needed to instantly reject US terror allegations against it in the absolute terms. Regrettably, instead of strongly reacting to Trump’s anti-Pakistan rhetoric, our worthy foreign minister tried to revive the Raymond Davis issue in the Parliament only to embarrass his political opponents and the military establishment at these critical moments. Similarly, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, the de facto prime minster, did not bother even commenting on this critical development. In fact, this sort of apathy or indifference vis-a-vis country’s foreign policy in general, and Afghan and Indian policy in particular, has constantly been witnessed during the last 4 years of PML-N tenure.

For many years, India has proactively launched a concerted diplomatic onslaught against Pakistan to isolate the latter internationally. For this purpose, India is actively endeavouring to tarnish the positive image of Pakistan in the world through its ‘negative branding’. Indian PM Narendra Modi has also publically vowed to spearhead a global campaign to isolate Pakistan in the world. Therefore, India is now readily exploiting all the potential multilateral forums, ranging from the UN to BRICS, SAARC, HoA-IP etc., ignoring altogether the things like diplomatic niceties, etiquette and protocols. At this stage, the recently-announced Trump’s South Asian strategy just supports and reinforces this very Indian strategy in the region.

Presently many European countries are being attacked by the Middle East-based terrorist outfits. These attacks have fueled strong anti-terrorism and anti-Islam sentiments in the Europe. Therefore, at this critical juncture, the terror-related Indian and American propaganda against Pakistan would severely tarnish the very image of Pakistan in the West. Pakistan now needs to evolve a comprehensive and proactive diplomatic strategy to project its positive image in the world.

Pakistan should actively project its distinguished counter-terror credentials in the world. Pakistan military has launched a number of full-fledged military operations against the militants and extremists across the country during the last decade. Thousands of Pakistani soldiers have laid down their lives in these operations. Similarly, instead of only becoming apologetic and defensive to the terror allegations leveled by India and the US, Pakistan should aggressively launched an all-out diplomatic onslaught against India internationally by actively highlighting the dirty role played by India in planning, prompting and supporting terrorism in Pakistan.

Noticeably, US kinetic military actions, along with its military strategies, have failed to yield positive results in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, it still looks reluctant to seek any pacific and political mean to stabilise and pacify war-torn Afghanistan. So far, it has deliberately sabotaged all the regional initiatives to bring lasting peace in Afghanistan, from the Murree Process to Quadrilateral Coordination Group (GCG) initiatives. A strong broad-based Afghan government cannot be formed without the participation of all ethnic Afghan groups. Similarly, all the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan have also a crucial role to play in Afghanistan to stabilise this volatile region.

The US military strategists and policy formulators should neither miscalculate Pakistan militarily nor try to underestimate its strategic significance and relevance in the region. Acknowledging this very crucial strategic reality, the Russian envoy to Afghanistan recently remarked that Pakistan is ‘a key regional player to negotiate with’. Russians had to face a humiliating defeat once they ignored ‘Pakistan factor’ in Afghanistan. Indeed this time the Americans should not repeat this fatal strategic blunder.