After months of deliberations, the US President Donald Trump finally announced his Afghan policy. The announcement was low on details and raised many questions on how he was going to implement it. The new policy suggests that USA is not likely to withdraw during his tenure as president. It is likely to deeply involve the US army in the Afghanistan war that began nearly 16 years ago after the 9/11 terror attacks.

The policy is a complete shift from his earlier stance that US troops should “leave Afghanistan immediately” and “rebuild the US first” as he had said on twitter. “Afghanistan is a complete waste. Time to come home!” Trump had tweeted in 2012. In his announcement he, however, said “In the end, we will fight and we will win.” The new parameters he is laying means more US direct engagement as he is sending 3,900 more troops to beef up the already 8,400 troops stationed in Afghanistan. The troops will continue to train and assist Afghan forces besides conducting counter terrorism missions against different groups including the Taliban with whom the USA at one time was ready to negotiate with for lasting peace. Will the increase in number of troops change the situation in Afghanistan? Perhaps not, but it has brought America’s war to the fore of the world, which was not much talked about in media or political circles of world politics and had continued in silence for so many years.

The policy announcement has not come as a surprise to many. It is a continuation of the same policy that different administrations have been pursuing for 16 years. The only difference is that Trump wants to use the element of surprise against terror outfits. How it will work is difficult to say now, but already, only half of Afghanistan is under the control of the Kabul government. The rest is under the control of Taliban and other groups. Afghanistan should brace itself for a lot of bloodshed and a ‘hot’ war as the Trump administration has stepped up airstrikes in Afghanistan. According to US Air Force data quoted by Fox News, 1,984 bombs were dropped between January to July this year, compared with 705 dropped during the same time period in 2016. This should serve as an eye opener for the world. Trump, throughout his election campaign stretched over more than a year and years before that, had been campaigning against US war engagements around the world. It seems after coming to power, he is going to increase them rather than acting to end them.

The Trump administration will be trying to put more pressure on Pakistan to ‘do more’ – a mantra we have been hearing from previous administrations as well. “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations”, Trump said in his speech. Well, he is not the first US leader to have made this comment. But his administration, like his predecessors, has not taken the situation as a whole. It is not as easy as it sounds. Pakistan has taken to the war on terror very seriously and its army’s different operations against terrorist outfits are testimony to the fact. What the USA fails to understand is the Indian factor in the whole scenario. Why is India being allowed to use Afghanistan soil for terrorist operations in Pakistan? The US should also take into account Indian influence in the affairs of the Afghan government and its influence over Afghan leaders. India wants monopoly in all affairs of Afghanistan. But is this possible when it does not share border with Afghanistan and the only link is through air? Pakistan on the other hand, shares a 2,300 km border with Afghanistan. In the wake of so many terror strikes inside Pakistan, it was from the Pakistani side that the fencing has been started to keep a check on the illegal movement of people. If USA is serious about bringing peace to Afghanistan and winning the war it has to check growing Indian influence and work as he said, according to the ground reality. Increased bombing will not help win over either the Afghans or the war. As Senator John McCain while commending Trump said, previous administrations had just been postponing defeat. But it seems Trump may be heading for the same fate.

The paradigm shift in policy is only that the US is changing its global role. “We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists,” Trump said and maintained that USA’s commitment “is not unlimited and our support is not a blank check... Our patience is not unlimited.” It is not only a plain warning to the Afghan government to check corruption and start working on improving people’s living conditions but it also shows that the USA will withdraw from other nation-building activities across the globe that gave it so much influence. Could it mean the end of Pax Americana?

Trump took a hard line on Pakistan and hinted that there could be sanctions against it. “They will have to change,” he said. Sanctions have not worked in the last three decades and will not work this time around as well. It is high time that the US engages with Pakistan diplomatically and positively. China has already criticised the new US policy. Pakistan was on the frontline in the struggle against terrorism and had made “great sacrifices” and “important contributions” in the fight, the Chinese Foreign ministry said.

Trump, instead of drawing new lines, should not alienate its friends. Pakistan and USA should be celebrating seven decades of close friendship and work out on cementing relations. Since the new policy does not give details, Trump still has a chance to mend things.


The writer is a member of staff.