US’ new Af-Pak strategy

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In a throwback to the George W Bush’s strategy of surge in Iraq which temporarily gave US some control  following  reverses in the war, Donald Trump has  resolved on deploying more troops to Afghanistan. The new US administration has  unveiled a broader review of the policy towards Afghanistan and South Asia.  Part of the new strategy is to deploy more American troops to Afghanistan to help in the combat operations and to continue to train Afghan forces. The goal is to reverse the recent substantial gains  made by the Taliban and convince it that they could not win on the battlefield. Trump has also a warning for Pakistan and good words for India which he considers “critical” to his goal of stabilizing the war-torn country. He said US will not remain silent on the terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan and would put more pressure on the country to support US war effort. On the other hand, the US President called for deepening the strategic partnership with India. He called for India’s enhanced role in Afghanistan to restore peace and stability.  Importantly, US president also talked about the antagonistic relations between India and Pakistan. “The threat is worse because Pakistan and India are two nuclear-armed states whose tense relations threaten to spiral into a conflict”, he said.

 Earlier US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis described the new strategy as a “path forward for America’s engagement” in  the region. However, what is missing in the new strategyis that there is little in the way of nudging India and Pakistan towards a Kashmir solution. There is a far cry from Trump’s desire to mediate between India and Pakistan for the resolution of Kashmir. But the new strategy has no mention of the state. It is not that there is  no realization of the Kashmir resolution in the stability of Afghanistan. There certainly is.  In 2008, the US president Barack Obama had specifically called for an active US intervention on Kashmir during his presidential campaign. Obama’s worldview on the region was substantially shaped by Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who was his advisor on South Asia during his first election campaign.  Riedel sees resolution of Kashmir as a panacea for the problems of the region and an anti-dote for the ongoing  war  in Afghanistan. He has always stressed that the resolution of India-Pakistan cold war was critical to stability in South Asia as it will isolate extremists and prevent a war in South Asia that could go nuclear.

The official US understanding, on the other hand, has been that an overt  role of the country can only complicate the Indo-Pak bilateral efforts to settle Kashmir. Besides, New Delhi has always forcefully rejected any third party intervention arguing that Kashmir could be best sorted out through negotiations with Islamabad. And which hasn’t happened for the past 70 years. By ignoring India, Pakistan relations and in turn Kashmir will once again prove detrimental to not only the prospect of peace in  Afghanistan but also in South Asia. A long term stability in Afghanistan is only possible when the world works for an integrated solution for the longstanding problems of the region, rather than just that of one country.

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