On August 21, President Donald Trump revealed his new war strategy in combating terrorism in Afghanistan. For most part, Trump’s new policy in Afghanistan is a continuation of his predecessors ’war policy with some exceptions.
First, the conditions on the ground will guide our war strategy instead of setting time tables:
From a military point of view, this appears to be a sound strategy. Psychologically, this strategy provides comfort to the anguished Afghans who have been pre-occupied with this perception of when is the United States going to abandon them again as it did in 1989, after winning the cold war. At the same time, people are worried about the continuation of war and upheaval that has devastated the country since 1978
Second, we are in Afghanistan to assist the Afghan National Security Forces win the war against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and ISIS (Daesh):
In the past 16 years, the United States and our allies have been involved in fighting the insurgents in the area. In fact, in 2010-2011, there were nearly one hundred thousand American troops with another forty thousand international forces representing 49 nations, deployed to Afghanistan. If we could not defeat the insurgency with such a large formidable force, how can we win the war against the insurgents and terrorists with only 8,400 American troops currently dispatched in Afghanistan?
Third, Pakistan must stop harboring these terrorists and criminals who are involved in the killing of innocent civilians:
This is an important point made by President Trump regarding the double sided policy of Pakistan towards Afghanistan. While Pakistan played an important role in hosting millions of Afghan refugees during the Soviet intervention in 1980s, it has also been complicit in harboring terror groups and sending them to the Afghan soil in order to create instability and maintain its strategic depth in the country. The Afghans have been bemoaning about the safe haven for terrorists in Pakistan for many years. Osama Bin Ladin, the mastermind of 9/11 attacks, was killed by our forces inside Pakistan in 2011, despite the Government of Pakistan’s repeated denials that Bin Ladin was in Pakistan. It is about time for the United States to exert political pressure on Pakistan in order to work towards a stable Afghanistan. After all, the security of both countries is co-dependent on mutual cooperation and respect for the sovereignty of each nation. President Trump could have explicitly stated the consequences of continued Pakistani collusion with terror groups.
Fourth, as part of our strategic partnership, India can play a greater role in providing economic assistance to Afghanistan:
India has been a very reliable partner helping Afghanistan on a number of different projects. Strengthening the United States and Indian partnership on Afghanistan will serve the strategic American interest in the region where China enjoys considerable influence. One challenge facing our foreign policy in South Asia is how to maintain a balanced approach between India and Pakistan, two nuclear powers involved in a conflict with Kashmir.
Fifth, the Military leadership on the ground will have complete autonomy to attack and kill these terrorists:
Coordination of military activities between the Afghan Government, the United States and the allies is extremely important for success of the Afghan mission. Civilian casualties and house to house searches by foreign forces will be culturally offensive and unacceptable to the Afghans. In fact civilian casualties and bombing of Afghan homes adversely affected the former president Hamid Karzai’s relationship with the United States.
Sixth, we are not in Afghanistan for nation building. It is up to the leadership of Afghanistan to introduce the needed reforms in order to build their country:
This is a very complex issue and is unrealistic for the United States to detach itself from the issues facing the Afghan leadership and institutions alike. The essential ingredients of Governance such as rule of law, transparency, responsiveness to the needs of the people, consensus building, equity and inclusiveness, effectiveness and efficiency, accountability and participation are still considered to be big obstacles to peace and security for Afghans. Additionally, maintaining security, endemic corruption and cultivation and production of drugs are enormous problems for the fragile Unity Government to tackle on their own. As the Afghans are transitioning towards building their own country, the leadership of the country need international monetary and technical assistance towards self- sufficiency which will take many years to achieve.
The Missing Link: President Trump’s Strategy in Afghanistan only dealt with one side of the coin that is killing the terrorists. Working towards peace and stability is the missing link of the other side of the coin in President Trump’s policy declaration on Afghanistan. While fighting the terrorists may win us some battles, it is only peace that will win the war for the Afghan people. Working towards peace has three dimensions in Afghanistan:
· Intra Afghan dialogue: All segments of the Afghan society such as academia, members of civil society, political parties, tribal and ethnic leaders, religious figures, women groups and youth groups should have the opportunity to engage in a national dialogue in order to assess the opportunities and challenges towards peace making and peace building. Such a national consensus lends more credibility towards achieving peace in the country. Currently, despite the overwhelming support of the Afghan population towards peace, no consensus has been built among all segments of population on how to proceed.
· Regional Dialogue: The neighboring countries of Pakistan, India, China, Turkey, Iran and Russia with participation of oil rich Gulf Countries can play an important role towards a peaceful Afghanistan. In fact, both the mutual interests of the United States and Russia converge on Afghanistan in fighting terrorism and drugs. Similarly, engaging Iran and Saudi Arabia on the same table towards the Afghan peace process will build more confidence between these two rival nations representing two different sects of Islam.
· The International dimension of support for a comprehensive peace in Afghanistan is essential. The United States can undertake this joint initiative in the United Nations by making peace making and peace building on top of our agenda.
The United States and the international community have spent billions of dollars and have made sacrifices in Afghanistan. The American people are tired of this longest war in Afghanistan. Unless we take some bold steps towards peace, the agony of the Afghan nation will continue and we have no way out of this quagmire in Afghanistan. After all, we should have learned this lesson from the former Soviet ten years of occupation in Afghanistan.
Matin Royeen Ph.D – is an Afghan-American Educator who served in Afghanistan as a Senior Civilian Cultural Advisor at ISAF from October of 2009 to December of 2011.