Road to Afghan (regional) peace passes through Kashmir, Islamabad

Pakistan, according to the Economic Survey of Pakistan Report 2016, has suffered well over $123 billion in economic losses due to war on terror in Afghanistan and within the country, and due to instability in the region over more than a decade.

Irshad Salim — President Donald Trump has said that he may be adding a few thousand more US troops in Afghanistan to achieve victory (without defining it) –no matter how long it takes– something that the 140,000 troops President Obama placed in 2010 and 2011 did not militarily. Overt and covert diplomatic efforts also failed.

So where does Trump’s re-strategic initiative lead to? It seems more a reset of geopolitical tactics than of military science which could lead to regional consensus-building with the U.S. on the horse, holding the stirrups — it suits its doctrine of global supremacy whether it’s at war or seeking peace on its terms with predictability and control.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Forces in the region competing for the same outcome (regional peace instead of just Afghan peace as was tried and tested post Geneva Conference in the late 80s) create a congruence, suiting all neighbors of Afghanistan– Pakistan being the frontline geo-politically, militarily –and going forward post-settlement, geo-economically. And there’s nothing wrong also with Pakistan’s posture.

Trump’s focus therefore appears to be on diplomatic efforts for now, and keeping his options open to up the ante militarily with no timeline fixed understandable. “My assumption is that there will be some intense diplomatic pressure” on Pakistan, said Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in an interview this week with Reuters.

She added that Trump’s decision is widely being considered to be a “stay the course” policy that provides a moderate increase of troops with no firm timeline for drawing down U.S. forces whether for exiting or to help the Afghan’s in the “nation-building” process concurrently.

According to one understanding of Trump’s policy speech, it seems the U.S. has finally outed its plan to park in Afghanistan and become a major player in the region which is evolving as the center of future global economic powers’ (China, India) autobahn with Pakistan as center of gravity. After all, more than half of China’s exports shall be passing through the CPEC — flagship of its One Belt One Road global outreach. Other regional nations either straddling Pakistan and or China are expected to directly or collaterally benefit from Beijing’s Marshall Plan for the region – driven by huge investment in infrastructure and backed by people-to-people socio-cultural initiatives. Economic diplomacy laced with public diplomacy –a tried and successfully tested mantra of the U.S. is at work for Beijing.

In both scenarios, exiting or staying, Afghan and regional peace have become mutually inclusive for the US. So has it become for Pakistan, China, Russia, India, Iran. That would entail resolving Kashmir dispute (considered a nuclear flashpoint previously and now being looked at as another Palestine), to assuage Pakistan concerns foremost, power-sharing with the Pashtun-dominated south (read the Taliban) to recognize and assimilate them –they are a majority ethnic population in the south straddling Pakistan, and at the end of the day, to create space for America itself with regional players being assured of building an anti-terror regional firewall all around with their acquiescence. The rest– ownership, distribution and monetization of the rich resources of the region will boil down to arithmetic.

Also read: Trump seeks to make a difference in Afghanistan

Therefore, two days after President Trump announced his much-awaited policy for Afghanistan and beyond, the State Department conceded that resolving the festering dispute between New Delhi and Islamabad over the Himalayan state of Kashmir “might help in bringing peace in Afghanistan”. Back in January, when Trump’s policy was in the nascent stage, Whitehouse spokesman has said US is willing to mediate between the two warring neighbors over Kashmir.

The latest statement from State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert came a day after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged India to seek rapprochement towards arch-rival Pakistan. Trump has brought in India into regional peace re-strategy by urging it to spend further in Afghanistan redevelopment– a move considered with concern by Islamabad.

The Kashmir dispute has bedeviled relationship between the two South Asian neighbors since their inception in 1947 but has lately been taken up as the most essential element for durable peace in the region.

Pakistan’s military and civilian government have over the months said regional peace depends on resolving Kashmir dispute. In other words, no matter how much money is spent in the region to fight terror and instability, Kashmir solution is the million dollar question which dovetails all issues on the negotiating table.

Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Bajwa has said, “Pakistan is not seeking material or financial help from the US, but Washington must trust and treat it with respect and acknowledge Pakistan’s contribution towards fight against terrorism in the region– a view echoed by its all-weather friend China. Bajwa told the US envoy in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, a day after Trump asked Islamabad to stop providing safe havens to terrorists, that “we are looking for understanding and [an] acknowledgement of our contributions.”

According to some observers, Pakistan’s national strategists knew these were coming: Reduction in aid, reimbursements, etc.; Induction of India in the Afghan equation, and opening up discussions on the Kashmir dispute resolution for regional peace– Kashmir resolution is more than dollars and cents Pakistan seeks as “compensation or reimbursements or aids.”

China’s $100+ billion soft loans and investment in CPEC and subsequent revenue in billions expected over the years for Pakistan dwarfs dollar gambit. Pakistan has also crossed the Rubicon in befriending Russia– its one-time foe during the Afghan war of the 80s which it fought against alongside US and its allies for “peanuts”, according to some Pakistani commentators and analysts, who claim “America was the biggest beneficiary of the war at the cost of existential threat to Pakistan.”

Trump’s Afghan decision may increase U.S. air power, training

Any hope the United States has for ending its 16-year involvement in the war must rely on building and supporting Afghanistan’s institutions, to include the air force, which in many ways is a microcosm for the costly, yet mixed, results of U.S. nation-building efforts.

Air power backed by drones and cyberwarfare are the tools of the future– it minimizes human toll to the bare minimum. So why add more boots on the ground, some observers said while commenting on Trump’s announcement of adding few thousand troops on the ground soon.

One part of former president Obama’s ambitious plan was building an Afghan air force of some 8,000 personnel and 154 aircraft. Eight years later, that goal is still a long way off but remains on the burner.

The plan now is to spend yet another six years building the Afghan air force.

The timeline for the refit of the Afghan air force now goes through fiscal year 2023, Air Force Brig. Gen. Phillip A. Stewart, the general in charge of the effort, told Foreign Policy in an interview this June.

“Obviously that exceeds our current authority to be there, so there’s a future policy decision to be made, which I’m not the guy to talk to about that.”

The latest $6.5 billion plan for the nascent Afghan air force calls for it to grow from its current fleet of 124 aircraft up to 259, and from 8,000 personnel to 12,000, according to Stewart.

U.S. military has been dependent in the past on overflight or land routes through Pakistan to resupply its forces in landlocked Afghanistan. Whether this would continue would be a tactical matter left to the Generals, as the former already has access to the war-torn region from nations in the region.

So, reducing financial payouts, reimbursements, and aid (not loans) to Pakistan was something coming. It outlived its purpose which was driven by short-term goals to begin with– just as America’s $1 trillion spending done over the 16-year period has hit the cost/benefit tradeoff cul-de-sac.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) estimates that from the fiscal year (FY) 2002 – roughly indicative of the start of the War on Terror – to FY2016, the U.S. has appropriated nearly eight billion dollars in “Security-Related” aid to Pakistan. (The FAS underscores that this is likely an overstatement of the actual aid total as the U.S. can and has withheld appropriated aid funds.)

FAS additionally estimates that the U.S., between FY2002 and FY2016, paid (not appropriated) Pakistan around $14.5 billion for “Coalition Support Funds” – payments essentially for logistical and operational support of U.S.-led military efforts in neighboring, landlocked Afghanistan.

These $22 billion of defense-related appropriations and payments are in addition to FAS’ estimate of another nearly $11 billion in economic and humanitarian aid appropriations to Pakistan during the same time span.Combined, these appropriations and payments total $33 billion over a decade and a half.

Pakistan, according to the Economic Survey of Pakistan Report 2016, has suffered well over $123 billion in economic losses due to war on terror in Afghanistan and within the country, and due to instability in the region over more than a decade.

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