Just as the US special envoy for South and Central Asian Affairs and Acting Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Alice Wells, landed in Pakistan, a suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into what the Taliban call ‘Foreign Occupation Forces’’ convoy, killing two US soldiers. The Taliban-led insurgency has ceased to show any sign of abatement. The world is anxiously waiting to see how the policy review of Afghanistan by the Trump administration, would solve the Afghan riddle. In a new development, the US has refused to make the Taliban part of any negotiation to restore peace in the war-wracked country. How the US sees Afghanistan settling to peace, without factoring in Taliban is beyond the intelligence of the commoner! It would also be interesting to note how the new Afghan policy seeks to pull Afghanistan out of its persistent warlike situation. Any addition to the forces, referred to as the occupation forces by the Taliban, might further deepen the pit of uncertainty. Unless the new policy gives the reign of power in the hands of the local Afghan leadership, which also means giving power to Ashraf Ghani’s puppet government leverage to decide Afghanistan’s polity on ground realities, securing peace would remain a distant dream.  This, however, does not seem to be the US outlook on the Afghan war. In his latest interview with a conservative radio, the US National Security Adviser Gen H R McMaster has defended Donald Trump’s strategy of winning the Afghan war by giving unrestricted powers to the military based in the war-torn country. The word ‘unrestricted,’ could have many interpretations, from enhancing the US’ footprints in Afghanistan to compounding the military strikes and incursions.

Alice Well was appreciative of Pakistan’s effort in dismantling the terrorist’s network at home, but her overall discourse was about persuading Pakistan to stop supporting the Afghan insurgents. McMaster has also said the same in the interview. He said that Trump wanted to see Pakistan change its paradoxical policy of supporting the militants. Paradoxical, again, refers to the good Taliban and bad Taliban theory. Pakistan’s repeated assurance that it is no more providing safe zones to any form of terrorists has not helped change the US perception so far.

The war-fatigued Pentagon is anxiously waiting for the Trump government to develop a coherent Afghan policy. Pentagon Chief Jim Mattis is not sure what to do with the Afghan situation, where more than 2,500 Afghan police and troops have been killed from January 1 to May 8. The figures of US soldiers being killed – who are supposed to be in a non-combat role – is the same as it was in 2016. If after 16 years of war, the US is not sure of what to do with Afghanistan, will the new policy under an eccentric and unpredictable President make any difference? Hardly. The policy of embracing the Northern Alliance at the expense of the Taliban and the strategy to install a borrowed democratic setup through electioneering has proved futile. The US has a unique penchant of repeating its mistakes. Every US foray, into the countries considered security threats, was made on the pretext of either saving the project of democracy or to eliminate the enemies of US freedom. The irony is that the US has not only failed to protect the so-called democratic values, but, in fact, has also unbridled draconian forces against the common human values of right to life and self-respect. The US provided opportunities to the Islamic State (IS) to incubate. The rebels of the Syrian wars were supported with ammunition and weapons irrespective of the fact that they were from Al-Qaeda. Later, the division within the rebels eventually gave rise to the IS.  The wages of US incursions in the Arab world is resonating in Afghanistan too, only if the US chooses to listen.  If peace in Afghanistan is what the US desires, the process can be rolled out without delay. But if the desire is to start a game of thrones in Afghanistan under the veneer of ‘new policy initiatives,’ bloodletting then may just be the right strategy.

It is, of course, the US, rather than Pakistan that needs to do more. Expecting Pakistan to do more should not be separated from regional political imperatives. The alleged support of Pakistan to the Haqqani network, because of which the Collation Support Fund has been restrained recently, is an issue subservient to the problem of Indian engagement in Afghanistan. Not that Afghanistan and India should not join hands, their partnership, if built on the premise of making the region peaceful, should be more than welcome, but if the relationship attempts to only add to the nuisance value of Afghanistan for other regional players, it becomes a matter of concern, and perhaps a reason to force the adoption of paradoxical behaviour.

One sign of the US losing grip on Afghanistan could be seen in the space Russia has claimed there. In contrast to the wasteful spending and threat perception of US forces against the Afghan population leading to the failure of counterinsurgency, the Russians mingle fearlessly with the Afghans beside spending tens of millions of dollars on different economic and cultural projects. In a twist of fate, the Afghans find the Russians better than the US, even the Taliban have welcomed Russian assistance to help the former fight the IS.

Russian General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, has said Russia was successfully implementing “non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals in Afghanistan.”

It is about time to bring Afghanistan out from the game of thrones allegory, to allow it to build its natural constructs. The million-dollar question is: Will the US let this happen?