According to the White House, US President Donald Trump is holding his much awaited South Asia strategy review focused on Afghanistan today at his country retreat Camp David in Maryland. In attendance will be US Vice-President Mike Pence, US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and the US National Security Team.
The inter agency exercise aimed at redrawing US’ Afghanistan strategy includes inputs from the US State and Defence departments. An earlier plan by US Defence Secretary James Mattis and H.R. McMaster to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan was rejected by Trump.
The plan sought to send around 5000 more US troops to the South Asian nation. The US has currently 9000 troops stationed in Afghanistan in its longest war in history that began in 2001. Reportedly, Trump has conveyed to his lieutenants that the US is not winning in Afghanistan and he might go for a radical revamp of the US policy there.
THE AIM OF THE INTER AGENCY EXERCISE
The exercise is also aimed at incorporating regional perspective to the whole Afghan issue. To explore the possibilities, the Trump administration had sent its top diplomat Alice Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs and Acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, earlier this month to India and Pakistan.
India also hosted other senior US State Department, Pentagon and US Security Council officials including Lisa Curtis and Cara Abercrombie during an event organized the MEA and a think tank.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION’S PRO-INDIA BENT
Given the Trump administration’s pro-India bent, India may emerge as an instrumental player in Afghanistan with US policy change and it happens so, it will certainly be a humiliating setback for Pakistan which sees India’s increasing influence in Afghanistan inimical to its interests and has linked peace efforts in Kabul to Kashmir something that India has completely ruled out. What also goes against Pakistan is the fact that it doesn’t hold good relations with Afghanistan’s ruling establishment and is fast losing its credibility in Washington as well.
That India is on the US radar become clear from the fact that the all powerful US Senate Armed Services Committee has strongly advocated for a strong Indian role in Afghanistan. “The committee believes that the US needs to recommit to the fight in Afghanistan and that India, as a major defence partner of the US and a contributor to regional security, has a critical role to play in this effort”, the committee report last month.
Also, the review meeting is going to be held in the backdrop of pro India and anti Pakistan developments in the US. Trump called Prime Minister Narendra Modi to wish India on its Independence Day while he didn’t extend the courtesy to Pakistan, its so-called ally in the war on terror.
SALAHUDDIN A GLOBAL TERRORIST, HIZBUL A TERRORIST OUTFIT
Then the US first termed Syed Salahuddin a global terrorist in June and then declared his ISI supported organization Hizbul Mujahideen a terrorist outfit. Pakistani propaganda calls them freedom fighters and has termed the US action completely unjustified. Before it, the US pressure had forced Pakistan to house arrest Hafiz Saeed in January this year. And to compound Pakistan’s problems, its latest Country Report on Terrorism has called Pakistan a haven for India-centric terrorists.
Also, the US has made a part of its military assistance to Pakistan conditional to its handling of Afghan terror groups including the Haqqani Faction and it withheld the amount for this year and the last year, over $600 million, as Pakistan could not convince the US of its action against the Haqqani Faction.
INDIA, A TRUSTED FRIEND OF AFGHANISTAN
India has been a trusted friend of Afghanistan for decades and shares cultural ties with it. The Pentagon defines India as Afghanistan’s most reliable regional partner.
India has played an important role in Afghanistan’s reconstruction in post Taliban era spending around $2 Billion since 2002 on development projects including its parliament building and committed another $1 Billion last year. The Indian aid basically has been in infrastructure development, health services and military equipments like bullet proof jackets and convoy vehicles. But breaking the tradition of not giving lethal military equipments in aid, it gave Afghanistan four attack helicopters last year and is also training its soldiers.