By Asif Haroon Raja
Donald Trump’s policy speech on Afghanistan
It took Donald Trump and his team 8 months to formulate Afghan policy, which was hailed by India and Afghan Government, but received with concern by Pakistan, China and Russia. It was a U-turn to what Trump had promised during the election campaign that he will reduce US military engagements in conflict zones, cut down defence budget, revise US-NATO military alliance since in his view NATO was a white elephant and a big drain on the US budget, and lastly, pullout American troops from the longest war in Afghanistan.
Contrary to his pledge on Afghanistan, he announced that the 16-year war will continue without timeline and 4000 additional troops will be dispatched to reinforce Resolute Support Group of and ANSF to kill terrorists. The unity government in Kabul was asked to focus on rooting out corruption and fighting the terrorists so as to qualify for financial assistance. At the same time India was politely reminded to further contribute towards Afghanistan’s economic and political development. His tone changed when he singled out Pakistan for housing terrorists and abetting terrorism in Afghanistan. He cynically stated that Pakistan was providing sanctuaries to the anti-US/Afghan terrorists after receiving billions and billions of dollars from USA.
It was a highly discriminatory speech in which Pakistan was painted as the villain of peace responsible for the instability in Afghanistan and warned to eliminate all safe havens of terrorists and to stop aiding terrorists immediately or be prepared for the reprisals. No mention of Afghanistan being used as base of cross border terrorism by RAW-NDS against Pakistan was made. Nor a thought was given to the fact that with over 50% Afghan territory under the control of Taliban, why would they need sanctuaries in Pakistan? Incompetence of the US-NATO military, ANSF and unity government rived in corruption, poor governance and power tussle, were not mentioned. India playing the spoiler game, and itsdeclared policy of isolating Pakistan internationally and destabilizing it internally as well as its disastrous Kashmir policy and refusal to have a dialogue with Pakistan were not stated.
The connections of Russia, China and Iran with the Taliban were not brought to fore. Pakistan’s security concerns were not taken into account that growing presence of India in Afghanistan presented a twin threat to Pakistan. Pakistan’s sacrifices and achievements it made in fighting terrorism as a frontline state were skipped. Trump didn’t deem it fit to recall the repeated betrayals of USA, particularly at a time when Pakistan needed the US assistance the most. The worst was in 1989 when the US after achieving all its objectives through Pakistan, it callously abandoned it, put it under sanctions and embraced Pakistan’s archrival India which was an ardent Soviet camp follower.
The new policy defines the new parameters in unambiguous terms which implies that George Bush policy of ‘Fight and Fight’ will be adopted and Obama’s policy of ‘Fight and Talk’ discarded. Trump advocated continuation of war indefinitely and ruled out talks with Taliban. He has given unrestricted powers to the US military commanders in Afghanistan. As regards Pakistan, blaming it for failures in Afghanistan and ‘Do More Mantra’ are old accusations that have been levelled by USA, Afghanistan and India collectively since 2004. Not only Pakistan has again been blamed, it is threatened and told to eliminate sanctuaries forthwith. Making India a key player in Afghanistan has been the cherished desire of all the three US Presidents.
The US invented Excuses
Looking back, one finds that the US had always come out with lame excuses to invade a country. It held Osama bin Laden (OBL) led al-Qaida based in Afghanistan responsible for the Twin-Towers and Pentagon attacks on 9/11. Impoverished Afghanistan ruled by Taliban regime was attacked on the plea that Mullah Omar sheltering OBL refused to hand him over to USA without providing proofs of his complicity. The real motives were different. Besides the lure of trillions of dollars’ worth untapped mineral resources of Afghanistan, it was ideally located to overview its prospective targets – China, Russia, Central Asia, Pakistan, Iran and Middle East.
Iraq was attacked under a fake premise that Saddam regime had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The real motive was oil and to divide the country on ethnic/sectarian lines. Libya was attacked on the pretext that Qaddafi was a dictator. Actual motives were to prevent Qaddafi from introducing separate currency/ banking system and to control Libya’s oil resources. Civil war was triggered in Syria to get rid of Assad regime since in the US view the Alawite minority regime’s rule over majority Sunni Syrians was illegal. In actuality, Syria’s alignment with Iran, Hezbollah and Russia had troubled Israel and USA and this configuration had to be broken.
Yemen was subjected to drone attacks to hit Arabian Peninsula Al-Qaeda dispositions and create chaos. Division of Sudan was justified that South Sudan was inhabited by majority of non-Muslims. Real problem was Sharia (Islamic system). Gaza was repeatedly assaulted by the Israeli military backed by USA to flush out Hamas. Turbulence was created in Lebanon to weaken Hezbollah that had become a big threat to Israel. Iran was put under four-fold sanctions to force it to roll back its nuclear program. It is now being coerced so as to defang its missile power.
Pakistan was subjected to a massive covert war together with hybrid war to disable its nuclear program. Trump has announced an aggressive policy against Pakistan to disrupt CPEC at all cost. He is flexing his muscles hoping that like George Bush, he will be able to subdue considerably weakened Pakistan and make it follow his dictates and help the US in winning the lost war. However, winning the war is not as important as the incapacitation of Pakistan’s nuclear program and CPEC. The CPEC is giving sleepless nights to both USA and India and both are hell-bent to scuttle it at whatever cost.
The US has all along pursued a highly militarized and aggressive foreign policy of intimidation, annexation and capture of resources of others. In pursuit of its strategic and mercantile interests, it has not even spared its allies. The US has been at war for the last 221 years out of 249 years of its existence, but has never won a war in its history. Each and every adventure met with disgraceful end. Vietnam became its graveyard and now Afghanistan has turned into another graveyard. Another trait of USA is to resort to bullying tactics. It has never grappled with a matching rival but has traditionally threatened and attacked only those countries which are weak and don’t match their military might. Cuba was tolerated because it could retaliate with missiles.
After 9/11 the US attacked impoverished, weak and war-torn Afghanistan and used a hammer to kill a mosquito. It took US policy makers more than a year to verify that Iraq didn’t have WMD before going for the kill. Trump is now threatening North Korea but don’t have the courage to take an aggressive step since Pyongyang ICBMs can strike USA and its bases in South Korea and Japan.
Although the US made Pakistan a coalition partner, a non-NATO ally and a front line state to fight the US imposed war on terror, it was taken on board as a tactical partner for the accomplishment of the US short-term objectives. We were duped into believing that the US will not commit past mistakes and will make amends and we thoughtlessly fell into the trap, trusting that Pakistan will be safe under the wings of USA.
The US, puppet regime in Kabul, India, Israel and UK are strategic partners with common objectives and security concerns.
Pakistan does not fit into the security paradigm of any of the stated countries and will remain an enemy because of it being a Muslim and nuclear country, aligned with China and building CPEC.
It is ludicrous to say that the US want to eliminate terrorism to make the world peaceful, since the US is fanning terrorism through paid proxies under a well-planned strategy to foment chaos in target countries and achieve its hidden objectives.
If the US sincerely wants to root out terrorism in Afghanistan and is convinced that terrorism flows out of Pakistan, why does it object to the fencing of western border by Pakistan? If it can dump $1.3 trillion in the inferno of Afghanistan with zero results, why can’t it dole out $ 10 billion to Pakistan to speedily complete the fencing of entire stretch of 2400 km border and club the menace once and for all? Its reluctance is a clear-cut indication that it is least interested in controlling terrorism.
Afghanistan is in use of Indo-US-Afghan nexus as a base of operation to destabilize, denuclearize, de-Islamize and balkanize Pakistan. Indian presence in Afghanistan has posed a twin threat to Pakistan. India will never allow Pakistan-Afghanistan relations to normalize.
India has played a role in creating misgivings in Pak-Iran relations and in Pak-GCC relations in its bid to isolate and encircle Pakistan.
The US military lost initiative to Taliban when it took up a rearward posture in September 2009 owing to debacles in Helmand and Nuristan despite two troop surges, and then finally withdrew in December 2014. Thereafter, the Taliban have been constantly gaining space while writ of Ashraf Ghani-Abdullah regime is confined to Kabul only.
Whatever objectives laid down for Afghanistan by the invaders have not been accomplished and today the country is in much worse shape than it was in 2001. For all practical purposes, USA has lost the war but doesn’t have the heart to say and is myopically trying to convert defeat into victory.
Obama wanted a face saving formula to exit honorably, but couldn’t. If 140,000 strong ISAF couldn’t reverse the tide, sending in 4000 additional troops amounts to reinforcing failure.
The US was never sincere in peace talks with the Taliban and always played a double game to divide the Taliban and bargain a political settlement with them from a position of strength. July 2015 peace talks at Murree arranged by Pakistan were sabotaged by playing up Mullah Omar’s death controversy. When Mullah Mansour again got inclined to talks, he was droned in May 2016 to give a deathblow to the peace process. Trump is disinclined to hold talks with Taliban since they are enjoying an upper edge.
Gen John Douglas assertion that Taliban can’t win war and should surrender is too simplistic. Stalemate is in interest of Taliban since time and fatalities are of no consequence to them. Troop surge and use of force would imply more blood flow.
The US too can’t win war and will keep slipping deeper into the quagmire of Afghanistan.
There is virtually no change in the approach of Bush, Obama and Trump towards Pakistan and India. Former two pursued anti-Pakistan agenda and aspired to make India the main player in Afghanistan and policeman of the region. Trump is doing the same.
CPEC is unacceptable to US and India since it has the potential to make China the leading economic power and break strategic encirclements of Pakistan and China by India and USA respectively.
It is highly embarrassing for the US led coalition of 46 countries to fail in defeating rag-tag Taliban. Brilliant successes achieved by Pakistan in spite of grossly unfavorable environments has sprinkled salt on the wounded pride of US military.
The US hides its embarrassment by putting the entire blame on Pakistan. This blame game has lost its potency after the outstanding results achieved by Operation Zarb e Azb followed up by Operation Raddul Fasaad. There is no safe haven of terrorists in Pakistan.
Bush had succeeded in overawing Gen. Musharraf and making him agree to his 7 demands, the ill effects of which this nation is still suffering. Taking advantage of his reckless demeanor, Trump has also tried to coerce Pakistan leadership at a time when it thinks is politically on a slippery ground, and it will readily agree to pick up open fight against Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network (HN) as well as all other banned militant groups like Jaish Muhammad, Lashkar Taiba, Jamaatud Dawa.
Disbandment of Kashmir focused Jihadi groups by Musharraf regime had forced them to join TTP and Pakistan had to suffer the consequences.
No ban has ever been put on any of the over 100 terrorist groups in India including the BJP which is the political face of notorious RSS busy imposing Hindutva in India.
Pakistan has been pursuing a policy of appeasement and all its responses have been reactive, apologetic and defensive. We offered our second cheek for a slap instead of contesting ‘do more policy’, intended to bleed Pakistan. This self-destructive policy gave heart to every Tom, Dick and Harry to whip Pakistan.
Can Trump Actualize his Threat?
The US was politically, economically, militarily and diplomatically the strongest country of the world when 9/11 occurred. It had the capacity to attack both Afghanistan and Pakistan since Pakistan’s nuclear program and missile power in that timeframe were in infant stage, its relations with China were not as deep-rooted and Pak-Russia relations were strained.
Today, the US is a descending power with melting economy, bruised prestige and is the most hated nation among the Muslim world. Its uni-polarism has given way to multi-polar world. The US military is demoralized and so is NATO and has little heart left to put their boots on ground in any battle zone. Airpower has failed to give the US any decisive results. Homefront is restive. Above all, Trump is an unpopular President and a Congressman has filed a reference for his impeachment. So far, nothing has worked in his favor.
Neither the US nor India can afford to wage an open war. Only option is covert war supplemented by hybrid war.
Today, Pakistan is in much stronger position since it has overcome the threat of India’s Cold Start doctrine by developing short, intermediate and long range missiles including cruise missiles and weaponized drones, miniaturized nukes that can be carried in briefcases or used in warheads of Nasr missiles, and has to a great extent overcome its energy, economic and terrorism issues. China-Pakistan relations have further cemented after launch of CPEC. Strains in Pakistan-Russia relations have been replaced with amiability and Pakistan is member of SCO.
Pakistan had shown its defiance after Salala attack in November 2011 for 8 months and forced Washington to apologize.
Pakistan’s nuclear capability and missile power have attained the age of maturity and accuracy. It has an array of potent missiles that can hit any country including USA and Israel and the US military bases in the region devoid of anti-missile shield. Taimur missile has a range of 17000 km, Hatf-7 Babar missile can destroy stealth helicopters, artillery/mortar rockets that can penetrate and destroy Tungsten Carbide made tanks. Pakistan has developed weaponized and non-weaponized drones indigenously. Whole Army is fully battle inoculated, well led and rated as the best in the world. The ISI is rated as number one intelligence agency which has thwarted the onslaughts of six hostile agencies for over a decade. Airforce is in top gear and Navy is battle worthy and ready to meet the threat. Army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa stated that Pakistan doesn’t need America’s military and financial assistance but only seeks acknowledgment of its sacrifices. He rightly asserted that Pakistan can’t bring Afghan war into Pakistan.
China and Russia have stood behind Pakistan, while Saudi Arabia have assured that it will take care of financial issues in case of sanctions. The parliament has given a firm response to the US bullying and so has the people of Pakistan by taking out huge processions in all cities to protest against Trump’s diatribe.
Reasons behind Trump’s Aggression
- Geo-economic interests of USA: A. It has in mind well over trillion dollars’ worth untapped mineral resources in Afghanistan which it fears will be swooped by China. B. It aspires to harness Central Asian States vast resources stretching up to Caspian Sea and this longing was among the biggest motivation to capture Afghanistan. C. Then there is over 100 billion dollars’ worth lucrative drug trade. D. American Corporates and security contractors have their own mercantile interests.
- Geo-Strategic Interests: A. Keep monitoring China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran. B. Keep looking for an opportunity to disable Pakistan’s nuclear program. C. Disrupt CPEC. D. Prevent civil war and open entry to China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan into Afghanistan after its exit. E. Make India the leading player and enable it to fill the vacuum in Afghanistan after the US departure.
What the US can do against Pakistan?
- Since an open war is ruled out, the US can continue with its indirect strategy to destabilize Pakistan.
- Intensify covert war in the three conflict zones of FATA/Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Baluchistan and Karachi by coopting Daesh.
- Intensify drone war in FATA, settled areas of KP and Baluchistan.
- Apply sanctions through the UN.
- Stop all sorts of economic and military assistance.
- Freeze Pakistan’s foreign reserves.
- Cease exports worth $ 6 billion.
- Pressure EU to block Pakistan’s exports worth $ 20 billion.
- Apply pressure on IMF, World Bank, ADB and Paris Club to stop giving loans and seek return of loans.
- Block remittances of Pakistani expatriates in USA which are to the tune of $10 billion annually.
- Demonize Pakistan and move a case in the UN to declare Pakistan a terrorist state and Pak Army a rogue outfit.
- Encourage India to fulfil its desire of carrying out surgical strikes and limited attacks in Azad Kashmir.
- Stimulate warlike conditions through false flag operations to justify troop deployments by Indian and Afghan forces along Pakistan’s border.
- Intensify pressure against Pakistan nuclear program by playing up old theme of the nukes falling in wrong hands.
Counter Steps taken by Pakistan
Following are the recommended counter steps to ward off the US threat:
- Pakistan should strive to become part of a strategic block of Russia, China, SCO countries and possibly Iran, and also sign a 20-year Treaty of Friendship with China similar to the one signed between India and former USSR in August 1971.
- Pakistan should invoke the vital clause of ‘joint defence’ in the SCO Charter, of which it is a member, which states that attack on Pakistan will be considered as an attack on China and Russia and vice versa.
- Pakistan in concert with China and Russia should work out the definition of ‘terrorism’, since the US which initiated the war on terror has so far failed to define it. This is important to differentiate between terrorism and freedom movements that have been lumped under one category.
- Pakistan must declare its drone policy and state that any drone entering Pakistan will be viewed as a hostile attack and shot down and it may exercise the option of giving a tit for tat response inside Afghanistan.
- Move a case in the UN that the President of USA has threatened a sovereign independent state which is in violation of the UN charter. Similar case must be moved if the US coerces financial institutions and EU to create troubles.
- China and Russia must be requested to use their veto power to block the US efforts to impose sanctions through the UN and to get Pakistan declared a terrorist state.
- The US supported TTP and Baloch rebel groups have caused a financial loss of over $ 50 billion besides human losses. Pakistan should file a case in the ICJ and the UN to seek compensation.
- Pakistan should also seek compensation for hundreds of drone victims.
- Pakistan should maximize pressure on USA and Afghanistan to eliminate sanctuaries of TTP in Kunar, Nuristan and Nangarhar, and that of Daesh in Tora Bora and to hand over wanted TTP leaders.
- Pakistan should insist on immediate closure of Pakistan specific Indian Consulates in southern and eastern Afghanistan that are solely engaged in anti-Pakistan activities.
- Pakistan should allow the use of two supply routes by US-Nato vehicles on strict conditions that it will adopt a friendly posture, will pay the toll tax and give an assurance that containers will not be misused to supply arms to anti-Pakistan groups in Pakistan. The ground as well as air routes used by India and USA to reach Afghanistan should be blocked in case of any hostile act.
- Based on the evidence collected from Kalbushan Yadhav, Ehsanullah Ehsan and Latif Mehsud, Pakistan should build a strong counter narrative that USA, India and Afghanistan in collusion are the sponsors of terrorism and Pakistan having suffered 60,000 casualties and a financial loss of $ 123 billion is the biggest victim of terrorism.
- Pakistan should move a case to get India declared a terrorist state.
- Pakistan should seek return of absconders Altaf Hussain, Hussain Haqqani, Harbyar Marri, Daood Suleman, Brahamdagh Bugti.
Should we continue to be whipped and bled without a whimper? Isn’t it time to drastically revise our US centric foreign policy and draw strength from China, Russia, SCO, GCC, Turkey, Iran. In our ongoing testing times, we can clearly identify who is our friend. It will be foolish to rely on untrustworthy Afghan unity government which is entirely controlled by US and India. Pakistan shares 60% border with eastern and southern Afghanistan which is predominated by Afghan Pashtuns and with whom we have blood relations. 45 million Pashtuns live on both sides of the border (60% in Pakistan and 40% in Afghanistan). Our future lies with them.
While Trump’s rhetoric must not worry us, we must remain vigilant and well prepared for the worst. Unity of home front is a must to deal with external challenges.
Pakistan should adopt a proactive stance by clearly stating that it has done more than any other country in the US imposed war and suffered the most and achieved far better results than any other country and as such it is USA which needs to do a lot more. It is now up to the Trump administration whether it will continue to partner with Pakistan or confront nuclear Pakistan on a misplaced charge.
Trump has lost his marbles and has no idea of the implications of his unwarranted threats. Any foolhardy attempt will prove costly. It appears that he is destined to preside over the disintegration of USA which he intended to make great again.
The writer is a retired Brig, war veteran, defence, security and political analyst, author of five books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre. Takes part in TV talk shows and delivers lectures. email@example.com