The new US Afghan policy declared in a speech by President Donald Trump on August 22 is impressive for its clarity, comprehensiveness and nuance.
US seems to have learnt from its past mistakes and the deep, rigorous and long process of consultation involving all stakeholders in the US state system must have also contributed in producing a substantial policy.
Surge in US troops will be quite modest but unlike the past there is no date for withdrawal given in advance.
Decision about withdrawal in the future will be taken on the need basis keeping in view reality on the ground.
In the past even a huge military surge was ineffective because Taliban knew the date of withdrawal of international forces in advance so they could adopt the simple strategy of waiting them out.
In that situation US had the watch and Taliban had the time.
Now the tables have turned.
The focus of the fresh US support program is to equip, train and advise the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) rather than replacethem in fighting.
ANSF has turned out to be an effective fighting force during the last four years, after taking over the country’s defense from international forces.
There were certain deficiencies in equipment and training.
The additional equipment and training (particularly the air cover) will boost its strength and morale.
Under the new policy US military commanders will have greater power to make decisions on ground in Afghanistan which will enable them to take quick decisions, and time is of the essence in this war like every other war.
But the most important aspect of the policy is the focus on counter-terrorism.
That has been the most significant purpose of the presence of international troops in Afghanistan but it wasn’t given its due priority.
Nation building in Afghanistan isn’t the business of foreigners.
It is for Afghan themselves to work on the project of nation building and state building.
The new US policy makes a strong commitment to support Afghanistan but it also makes it clear that the Afghan government shouldn’t take it as a blank cheque.
The National Unity Government (NUG) has to put its act together in terms of implementing reforms, rooting out corruption and achieving legitimacy by gaining people’s confidence.
Interestingly the new US policy, along with expressing commitment for support of NUG, also leaves the door open for negotiations for a political solution which adds to the strength of the policy.
President Trump’s new Afghan policy mentions Indian contributions in stabilising Afghanistan in terms of economic development.
It carefully avoids any military role for India and again the new policy is building on something that is already there.
India has already invested billions of dollars in building roads, dams, bridges and other infrastructure in Afghanistan.
Coming to the aspect of the new US Afghan policy dealing with Pakistan one can say that it’s the least surprising.
Pakistan’s consistent campaign for imposing Taliban’s rule on Afghanistan has been attracting the criticism of different US leaders after September 11.
By redefining his Afghan policy as AfPak policy President Obama had made it clear that he regarded Pakistan as part of the problem.
He had also threatened Pakistan with international isolation if it kept providing sanctuaries to Afghan insurgents.
Due to long association and collaboration of the past (coming from working together in SEATO, CENTO and Afghan War) the US security establishment has taken a long time to put the Pakistani security establishment on warning for its support for Taliban and other organisations alleged to be involved in terrorism.
But it had to come one day and it’s still a warning so far.
It may be a historic opportunity for Pakistan to get rid of a flawed Afghan policy that has acquired malignant proportions over the time.
Even otherwise, this is a potentially suicidal policy for Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Afghan policy is the product of a militaristic and hegemonic design based on the jihadist project of the 1980s and it hasn’t changed in any tangible way despite tall claims to the contrary.
It aims at imposing a puppet government on Afghanistan by defeating the Afghan state and its international allies.
Many political parties in Pakistan have been criticising this policy.
It has neither been approved by the Parliament nor supported by any elected political government.
Pashtuns in Pakistan are particularly opposed to it because it puts them in the eye of the terrorist storm.
Pakistan’s Afghan policy has been the monopoly of the country’s security establishment and at times the civilian government would be sent packing for opposing it.
Taliban’s brutality was unleashed on every entity that clearly opposed it.
The policy of supporting good Taliban (that includes Afghan Taliban and elements fighting against India) has perpetuated terrorist problem in Pakistan despite valiant sacrifices by the people of the country and members of the security forces.
Pakistan has remained a war theater for almost the last four decades.
It’s only natural that the generals and not the civilians would call the shorts in a war theater.
So it isn’t surprising to see that support for jihadist project and threat to democracy emanate from the same source.
Again it’s the same mindset that is attacking democratic republics (however flawed they may be) in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Pakistan has already missed many opportunities to review this bankrupt Afghan policy during the last so many years.
It has renounced the policy of so called strategic depth only in statements but in practice there hasn’t been an iota of change.
Pakistan has not been able to avail the opportunity of having access to Central Asian markets because Talibanisation of Afghanistan has remained a higher priority than developing regional connectivity and trade.
The approval of the National Action Plan in December 2014 was another big opportunity for wrapping up the Taliban project and we were given to understand at the highest level that there will be a shift.
But it never came, despite the fact that Pakistan has every possibility of achieving its legitimate national interest in Afghanistan through political and diplomatic means.
No other two countries in the world have the type of commonalities that exist between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
This potential can be taped only if Pakistan learns to befriend Afghanistan instead of doting on the Taliban.
Political will to implement the policy is equally crucial.
Similarly China, Iran, Russia and Central Asian states aren’t mentioned.
They are important players and their inclusion is a must for any sustainable solution to the conflict around Afghanistan.
China and Russia are genuinely worried at the presence of the so called IS in the region along with other violent extremists that threatens their vision of regional development.
The recent collaboration between Taliban and IS in massacring Shia Hazaras in northern Afghanistan crystalises the nature of the threat.
One hopes countries of the region and beyond will cooperate to eliminate this common enemy instead of playing double games.
Writer: Afrasiab Khan Khattak