Spearhead Analysis – 04.07.2017
By Hira A. Shafi
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research
With the Pentagon predominantly in charge of handling the military aspect of the Afghan Policy, and US possibly gearing up for a troop surge in Afghanistan, many foresee the core thrust of the US-Afghan policy to be militaristic in nature–even though according to General Mattis, the Afghan policy -which is due to be released by mid-July- would take in account a ‘regional approach’ towards the Afghan crisis.
In the wake of some recent moves by the US, many also speculate a coercive approach towards Pakistan– However, according to a recent White House statement: The US wants to maintain cooperation with Pakistan.
Perhaps, the degree of coercion or cooperation between the US and Pakistan would depend on Pentagon’s definition of a ‘regional approach’.
A recently published article in the Diplomat sheds light on the various subsects to bear in mind, while assessing a ‘regional approach towards Afghanistan’.—–It dissects the Afghan war under the 5 major dimensions, which entails: Afghanistan’s ethnic conflicts, inter-ethnic conflicts, cultural warfare, rivalries of external states in Afghanistan and the US war against terrorism. If the Pentagon’s regional review, keeps in view the interlinked complexities of this multifaceted war, then it is only sensible to conclude that coercion against Pakistan would realistically achieve little of its objectives in Afghanistan; as most of these contentions transcend beyond Pakistan’s control. Nonetheless, the brunt of the blame for the challenges US faces in Afghanistan has often been placed on Pakistan.
Decisive action against certain regional groups has naturally been a prominent fallout point in Pak-US ties, a ‘do more’ US demand which at times tends to recklessly overlook the detrimental blowbacks Pakistan could face.
But, an endless blame game or exchange of grievances in is not the effective solution to Afghan crisis either. Instead, a focus on untangling the colliding complexities and devising relevant strategies is required. But, despite that–as premature as the claim may sound– what seems to be emanating from the US, indicates that the only clear resolve it has made so far– involves an increase in use of force to tilt the battlefield dynamics in its favor, and unfortunately, could be , once more ignoring the core root causes of Afghan crisis.
Several prominent voices in the US also, seem concerned over the government’s continued lack of clarity on its core objectives and vision for the endgame in Afghanistan; these concerns seem to be gaining more traction especially, in the wake of Trump’s decision to grant more autonomy to the Pentagon.
Many fear that Trump has effectively placed those in charge who may never see any incentive to stop the war and would continue asking for ‘more and more’ military might to tackle challenges, thus diminishing scope for peaceful resolutions. Furthermore, the proposals of state departments budget cuts and the cessation of US special envoy post to Pak-Afghan, could further reduce the diplomatic space to understand and resolve the conflict. A rather chilling glimpse of US aspirations was painted by General Petraeus in his recent interview: during which he presented his benchmark vision of US role in Korea and discussed the scope of a similar enduring stay in Afghanistan– which in his discourse may be achieved by troop surge, removal of time constraints on withdrawals and possibly increasing decisive force. But, General Pertraeus’ vision of glory seems to discount, the burgeoning socio political agitations within Afghanistan and even more consequential– the growing concerns of the major powers that stand in close proximity to the Afghan arena.
Thus, amidst these multifarious regional challenges coupled with US’s own lack of clarity on ending the Afghan war; exacerbating Pakistani security concerns seems like an ineffective solution to any problem. However, within the US, opinions on Pakistan seem to fall under two broad camps: one that calls for coercion and the other that understands the eminence of Pak- US ties and calls for closer cooperation especially in resolving the Afghan crisis. But, strangely, these starkly opposite schools of thought give an overall stalemated essence to Pak-US ties –which one can only hope, embarks on a consistent positive trajectory post Mid-July.
First and foremost, in the quest to safeguard its interests and bring stability in the Afghan region, the US should define its own objectives and strategies guided by realistic assessment of the regional dynamics , it should actively work with the Afghan government and all crucial regional powers to devise a coherent security framework which aims to end the actual menace of terrorism and at the same time expedite efforts to actualize mutually agreed upon political settlements involving all key stakeholders. US should also realize that revoking Pakistan’s status as a major non NATO ally or amplifying coercive tactics , may only decreases its regional support in the war against terror. Pakistan on its end, should make a stronger case highlighting its persistent efforts in counter terrorism and focus towards converging Pak-US interests. It is also time for Pakistan to shed its India centric view of the relationship with the US and Afghanistan and move to do what is in its own interest.