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USA’s Afghanistan policy and what it holds for India

By Parikshit Khatana

Much true to his own unique impulsive leadership style, US President Donald Trump, while announcing his Afghanistan and South Asian Policy, issued a stern warning to Pakistan in no uncertain term. Such a warning undoubtedly has been music to the ears of India and Afghanistan, and has been received pleasingly in both the countries. After a long suspense, Trump has come up with a strategy which merits to be called “Presidential”.

A very striking feature of this new policy is that it unhesitatingly has recognized the role of Pakistan in fuming trouble in the region, especially in Afghanistan. For the first time ever, Pakistan is being viewed as a problem, not a problem solver. It marks a serious departure from the US policy of occasionally bullying Pakistan and forcing it into some sort of action against terrorists flourishing on Pakistani soil. In short, the lenient American tone towards Pakistan has been done away with for good.

Although vaguely defined as of now, policy has expanded the possibility of new forms of actions and sanctions against Pakistan – ranging from drone attacks in Pakhtunwala region to economic sanctions. Much to Pakistan’s chagrin, the US congress is proposing to enact a legislation to drastically reduce economic and military aid to Pakistan. The proposed increased military presence under this policy is also a vexatious fact which Pakistan has to deal with.

However, the most positive aspect of this policy is that it hammers home India’s growing heft on global stage. Trump has sought an enhanced role for India in bringing peace to Afghanistan. He went on to the extent of calling India a “critical part” of his South Asian policy and promised to further strengthen their partnership with India. No doubt an appeal of enhancing cooperation on Afghanistan is an outcome of convergence of  interests between both countries, however, the convergence has turned into a repudiation to Pakistani claims that India has been instrumental in fomenting trouble in Afghanistan to invalidate Pakistan’s attempt at restoring peace in war torn country.

India’s role in Afghanistan has largely been a positive one with assistance in infrastructural  development projects and in promotion of Afghanistan’s dilapidated economy. India has pledged about USD 3 billion to Afghanistan since 2001. India has built over 200 public and private schools, hosts 16,000 Afghan students among many things. The India Afghanistan friendship dam, inaugurated jointly  last year by the Indian and Afghan Prime ministers, highlights the strong bond existing between thewe two countries. However, geographical isolation and no direct access through land route put a spanner in good work being done by India.

Trump’s South Asian policy has thrown open a lot of new gates which were hitherto closed to India. India’s benign involvement and presence in Afghanistan has got a validation from the President of USA. It gives India a chance to engage Pakistan in Afghanistan along with US ,therefore, easing out trouble that is being fanned by Pakistan in its Northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir. This policy therefore provides India an unmissable opportunity to checkmate Pakistan’s sinister designs in both India and Afghanistan.

This open invitation to India is also a chance to ameliorate recently heightened hostility of US with Iran and Russia. Prospects of such a scenario must not be lost on Indian establishment as it greatly boosts cooperation among parties with conflicting interests and can help bringing the peace in Afghanistan more smoothly and fast. It’s not a easy job to do. However, India possesses an advantageous position to present tangible benefits to all parties by bringing Chabahar port on the table. It’s a promising plan to enhance connectivity in region. The major beneficiary of any such congruence among major players will be Afghanistan, which is trying to resurrect itself after a decade long depredation. It also fits well into India-US strategy to counter growing Chinese presence in west Asia.

United States’ new thrust on holding Pakistan to account for its involvement in terrorist activities is also an opportune moment for India to flag the issue of non-sensitivity of US towards India’s concerns and complaints vis-à-vis Pakistan’s role in such activities. For so many years, US has been admonishing Pakistan for letting Haqqani network and Taliban operate freely from Pakistan, while ignoring India’s concerns on other terrorist organizations like Laskar-e-Toiba and Hizbul Mujahideen . A non-supportive attitude from US has handicapped India’s ability to generate an international response against Pakistan’s state support to such activities. However, new South Asia policy seems to be an acceptance of India’s contention that Terrorism in all forms is a danger to entire humanity.

This policy is also an unambiguous recognition of India’s effort in Afghanistan and provides India more liberty to exert its positive influence on Afghan leadership and to hold on its commitment to bring peace and order in Afghanistan. India has both desire and capability to beat some sense into feuding Afghan leadership. The ultimate objective of governance is a task to be carried on by none other than a strong Afghan leadership. Any attempt at restoring peace is unfulfilled until a strong sense of solidarity exists among the Afghans. India thus far has been skirting about this issue, however, it now requires attention of both India and US.

Therefore, this recently announced policy by President Trump is historic in more than one way. It reflects a considerable change in United States’ attitude of marching alone. United States has now adopted a more accommodative approach and seeks to provide place to other countries like India. A direct warning to Pakistan to either mend its ways or face action is also a first of its kind. The window of opportunity it opens up for India is undoubtedly broader than ever and in a way presents an unparalleled chance to India to effectuate its positive agenda in Afghanistan. This will surely go a long way in bringing peace and order simultaneously in Afghanistan and whole of South Asia.

Parikshit Khatana is a History graduate from Hindu College, University of Delhi, India.

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