Trump’s new Afghan strategy will fail if neighbors’ concerns not addressed

By M. Nadeem–In the past, America’s abstruse Afghan strategy has deteriorated the security situation in the region. Perhaps the strategy was not planned meticulously. It was ambiguous. Or perhaps it was well-calculated and clear but only for top leaders in the US, because they had hidden goals. Clearly defined solutions to the ongoing problems were missing. The presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan for over a decade could not protect Afghans. Terrorism is claiming lives of Afghan civilians and security personnel on a regular basis.

Massive terror attacks in the country, despite the presence of US-dominated NATO forces, are lamentable and raise questions about the sincerity of Washington in the current war on terror.

US policies have failed to alleviate the misery of Afghans – a fact yet to be embraced by the Pentagon. Current policies show the White House’s apathy. The element of arbitration – the only viable option out of the Afghan quagmire – is missing in these policies.

Tired of America’s longest war, the Trump administration is drafting another Afghan strategy.

According to US Defense Secretary James Mattis, the new strategy for the war-hit country will have a “regional context.” This week, the secretary told news reporters that the strategy “could change the nature of US military engagement” in Afghanistan.

It is believed that US military engagement will not be limited to assistance or training missions. American troops in Afghanistan will fight militant groups directly, and night raids will resume.

Night raids were the only bone of contention between the Karzai and Obama administrations. In a country like Afghanistan, where tribalism has deep roots, the surprise searches by foreign forces aggravate the local population.

Many Afghans see this strategy as a pretext for a longer presence of US forces in the country. They believe the strategy will not help the country because if the goal was elimination of terrorists and helping Afghan security forces, the US would have done it long before. Haunted by terrorism, Afghans say that the Islamic State (IS) emerged in the presence of foreign troops.

Likewise, Pakistan will distance itself further from the US if it comes under crippling pressure, and drone strikes were resumed. A troop surge without a clear plan will also perturb Russia and China, because the two countries played an important role in the Afghan reconciliation process. Iran, China and Russia will feel pressure when violence increases in Afghanistan.

If this happens, then the future of the Afghan peace process is surely dark as talks and war cannot go hand in hand.

Recent developments in the region suggest that although the Afghan government is desperately looking forward to the new strategy, its neighbors do not approve. Iran’s parliament passed a resolution against the US.

Political indicators give us a hint about the reaction of Afghanistan’s neighbors to the new strategy, which is still under discussion. The reaction is favorable neither to the Trump administration nor the Afghan government.

Therefore, a candid approach toward the Afghan problem is imperative to end the vicious circle of violence in the war-devastated country.

If the security concerns, views and interests of Afghanistan’s neighbors are not considered by the Trump administration, then the new strategy will not help the war-torn nation. Taking Afghanistan’s neighbors onboard is vital to ending the war through dialogue, which is the only viable option. If the concerns and viewpoints of China, Iran, Russia and Pakistan are not considered, it will create suspicions and tensions.

Afghan strategy must be broad-based and backed by Afghanistan’s neighbors. The White House has failed to give convincing replies to numerous questions related to the war against terrorism, especially the dramatic emergence of IS. Strategy based on insolence and miscalculations will prolong the misery of the Afghan people. Besides, an absence of key regional players will embolden the insurgents.

Therefore, inclusion of Afghanistan’s neighbors in the discussion on Afghan strategy would help US military strategists.

In order to end the war and have a result-oriented Afghan strategy, the US should convene a conference on its strategy.

The new strategy shall prove as a blessing rather than a curse for the Afghan people and other nations in the region who have suffered greatly. The best approach will be to include the affected nations and address their concerns. It will not only help in leading the war on terror to its ultimate end but also finding solutions to other major challenges such as radicalism, narcotics trafficking, separatist movements and civilian casualties.

(This article was originally published in the Global Times on July 20, 2017. The author is a Kabul-based journalist. [email protected])

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