Trump seeks to make a difference in Afghanistan

Irshad Salim — A few hours after ‘cosmic magic’ (solar eclipse) swept America on Tuesday, President Donald Trump announced his administration’s roadmap and deliverables for handling Afghan situation going forward.

Several observers say Trump doctrine for the region appears to be actually a mixed bag of geoeconomics and geopolitics well-suited for a ‘we are here to stay’ mantra –reminiscent of the creation of the 38th parallel in the 60s thru the 70s in Southeast Asia, and eclipses all previous administration’s oft-repeated 16-year sunspot on the “do more” narrative shown on Afghanistan’s eastern neighbor Pakistan.

Instead, Trump alludes to his administration having finally decided to do more itself in Afghanistan, where peace and stability is so elusive– whether through a stated military success in the graveyard of empires or through actual nation-building, But on a swathe of land which has been groundzero of Great Games — including the ongoing one, it could be a tall order.

It is not clear though if Trump strategy seeks exit or a continued presence in Afghanistan, which is next to Pakistan and Iran, and has a too close for comfort proximity with two to emerging powers– China and Russia. History reflects a doctrine of necessity in Trump policy for all to understand that the unraveling of geopolitical forces and counter-forces in the region is enabling such a step, observers say.

In the backdrop of emerging contours within Pakistan (notwithstanding the induced terrorism, extremism, sectarianism, and abundance of Trojan Horses, etc.) which may very well establish the final frontiers of geoeconomics and geopolitics several years from now, the US has probably come to stay. “And there’s nothing wrong with that as long as good neighborly conduct and practices are dexterously unleashed for a win-win war of America’s military might coupled with (most importantly) war of nerves against a common enemy.”

It however appears that a “common enemy” has not been well-defined or articulated in the theater of the operation — Trump policy also seeks to expand it. So while kinetic forces backed by a gigantic military-industrial empire in the US may rubberize the real estate in the region, civilizational albeit soft power may not yield binary successes deemed more sustainable in the long run.

This is where Pakistan’s and other regional powers'(specially China and Iran) historical capital investments in the region come into play –and more to the advantage of the US. The human dimension of any war and peace effort–from initiation to finale, ultimately creates the differentiator, it’s said.

In Trump’s telegraphy that is amiss, but in the fine print it reflects besides the “fight-to-win” derivative — Trump has said Washington is open to possible political agreement with Taliban. That’s in Pakistan’s national interest too.

So we do have a sliver of convergence within Trump doctrine and Pakistan’s long-term interests –other things being equal.

Pakistan army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor told reporters on Monday that whatever Trump’s decision on Afghanistan, “Pakistan shall do whatever is best in the national interest.”

“Let it come,” the army spokesman said, referring to Trump’s decision. “Even if it comes…Pakistan shall do whatever is best in the national interest.”

Asked about Trump’s speech, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Pakistan — China and Pakistan consider each other “all-weather friends” and “iron brothers”, was on the front line in the struggle against terrorism and had made “great sacrifices” and “important contributions” in the fight.

“We believe that the international community should fully recognize Pakistan’s anti-terrorism,” she told a daily news briefing.

“We are happy to see Pakistan and the United States carry out anti-terror cooperation on the basis of mutual respect, and work together for security and stability in the region and world.”

“We hope the relevant U.S. policies can help promote the security, stability and development of Afghanistan and the region,” Hua said.

So how much and how well Trump can make a difference in Afghanistan will matter –for durable peace and stability in the region, not Pakistan.

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