PEEVED AT TRUMP’S PRO INDIA BENT, CHINESE MEDIA DEFENDS PAKISTAN AND BATS FOR A GREATER CHINESE ROLE IN AFGHANISTAN

Will the US turn Afghanistan into a geopolitical bridgehead in Central Asia or work with China to build peace there?

That is a question posed by an editorial in China’s state-run publication Global Times. The editorial believes that the Afghanistan policy revamp by US President Donald Trump is a step in wrong direction.

Presenting the case for greater Chinese involvement in Afghanistan and defending Pakistan whom Trump again called a safe haven for terrorists and a duplicitous nation, the editorial says that “the US needs to enhance cooperation with China and improve ties with Pakistan to stabilize the Afghanistan situation.”

Reeking of the usual arrogance of Chinese media that threatens India with war every other day in the ongoing Doklam standoff, the editorial argues that it will be stupid on the part of the US “to abandon Pakistan and particularly short-sighted to get too close to India and drift away from Pakistan.” Pushing the Pakistani case further, it says that the US needs to respect and consider Pakistan’s interests and difficulties, and not push the latter too hard on anti-terrorism issues.

Under his government’s Afghanistan Policy, Trump has announced several departures from his established stand to withdraw the US from the war-torn South Asian nation. His emphasis is on increasing the number of US troops in Afghanistan and giving the forces free hand to handle insurgents and not micro-managing then from the Washington. And he clearly said that developing a strategic partnership with India was a critical part of US’ strategy for South Asia.

At the same time, he came down heavily on Pakistan and warned that the US would no longer be silent about Pakistan’s double-dealings and pressed that it had to change immediately. How frustrated the US is with Pakistan becomes clear with Trump’s remarks that “the US has been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that US is fighting.”

Now China is batting for that Pakistan and it tells how hollow these Chinese claims are, either in this boastful editorial about Chinese importance in Afghanistan when it has almost negligible presence there or the response of the China’s Foreign Ministry earlier which defended Pakistan saying the international community should recognize Pakistan’s efforts against terrorism.

Continuing its verbal tirade against the US, which banned some Chinese companies and individuals yesterday for their North Koreans links, the editorial says that there is nothing new in Trump’s Afghanistan policy and it ignores the complicated situation in Pakistan which cannot be handled by a single power.

The editorial accepts that the US doesn’t trust China enough but goes on to say that the US and China share common interests in Afghanistan and proposes that “Afghanistan could become a bridge for the two to expand their cooperation.” While the new US policy sees a clear strategic shift towards India, Afghanistan’s trusted partner in its reconstruction, Global Times finds no initiative on international cooperation and new thinking in Trump’s vision which it believes dangles between the approaches taken by Barack Obama and George W Bush and is aimed at maintaining the status quo.

That line of argument is in stark contrast to what Trump thinks. While detailing the policy in an address to the nation, Trump said, “One way or another, these problems will be solved – I’m a problem solver – and, in the end, we will win.” According to Trump and his aides, lengthy deliberations went into formulating the strategy after which Trump reached to a conclusion that the US could not leave Afghanistan in a state that would make it a breeding ground for terror outfits quoting the example of Iraq where a US withdrawal saw emergence of the Islamic State.

Now if the editorial calls that Afghan policy of the US aimless, it is nothing but driven by its vested interests and anti-India streak. China doesn’t want a US military base in Afghanistan. And China doesn’t want an increased strategic presence of India in Afghanistan that can provide it a vital base overlooking China and deeper access to energy rich Central Asia and Iran.

©SantoshChaubey

TALIBAN DISMISSES US POLICY CHANGE, SAYS WILL TURN AFGHANISTAN INTO GRAVEYARD FOR AMERICAN TROOPS

The article originally appeared on India Today on August 22.

The Taliban has dismissed the US policy change on Afghanistan saying it was nothing news and has dared the world’s only superpower that it will turn Afghanistan into a graveyard for the US troops.

“If America doesn´t withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, soon Afghanistan will become another graveyard for this superpower in the 21st century”, an AFP report said quoting Zabiullah Mujahid, an Afghan Taliban spokesperson.

US President Donald Trump, in his much awaited Afghanistan policy review, made a clear departure from his earlier stand that US had to withdraw from Afghanistan. He, in fact, said that after deliberations he had reached to a conclusion that the US could not leave Afghanistan in a state that would make it a breeding ground for terror outfits quoting the Iraq example where a US withdrawal seen emergence of the Islamic State.

Showing a conviction to increase number of US troops in Afghanistan and giving them a free hand in their ground operations, Trump said, “One way or another, these problems will be solved — I’m a problem solver — and, in the end, we will win.”

Reacting on it, the Taliban spokesperson said there was nothing new in the speech and Trump was just wasting American soldiers. “As long as there is one US soldier in our land, and they continue to impose war on us, we, with a high morale will continue our jihad”, he added.

The US launched war in Afghanistan in 2001 to overthrow the Taliban government there after the 9/11 attacks which was planned by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan under the Taliban protection. But what began as an operation to overthrow a government has become the longest foreign war in the US history, now in its 16th years, and has cost the US hundreds of billions of dollars with around 2400 dead US soldiers and over 20,000 injured.

Afghanistan has been witnessing terror resurgence. Last year, the US and NATO commander in Afghanistan General John F. Campbell had described the Haqqani Network as the most capable threat to the US and coalition forces. Also, Taliban is seeing a new surge. According to different analyses, it now controls 10 per cent of the Afghan territory and 30 per cent of its people.

©SantoshChaubey

WHY THE US POLICY CHANGE ON AFGHANISTAN MATTERS FOR INDIA

The article originally appeared on India Today on August 22.

As expected, US President Donald Trump has called for a greater Indian role in Afghanistan. During his address to the nation on US’ Afghanistan policy review, during which Trump made several departures from his established stand to withdraw the US from the war-torn South Asian nation like increasing the number of US troops there and giving the forces free hand to handle insurgents and not micro-managing then from the Washington, he clearly said that developing a strategic partnership with India was a critical part of US’ South Asia strategy.

His policy statement that the “India, the world’s largest democracy is a key security and economic partner of the US and it appreciates India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan and wants India to help the US more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development” is an extension to a last month report by the powerful US Senate Armed Services Committee report that advocated a trilateral arrangement between India, Afghanistan and the US. “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 report said.

In fact, a greater Indian role in Afghanistan where it is already playing a big part in its reconstruction, will not only give India strategic advantage over its traditional rivals like Pakistan and China, but would also mean greater access to the oil and mineral rich Central Asian nations and opportunity for its industry to gain a larger share in the whole Afghanistan rebuilding business.

And this is coupled with the fact that the US review on Afghanistan has been extremely harsh on Pakistan with Trump describing Pakistan again as safe haven for terror groups. He warned that the US will no longer remain silent about it and pressed that it had to change immediately. Now that has huge implications for an increased Indian role in Afghanistan as it has been primarily Pakistan’s objection, a US ally in war on terror, that sees India’s rise in Afghanistan inimical to its interests. How frustrated the US is with Pakistan’s double-dealings becomes clear once again with Trump’s remarks that “the US has been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that US is fighting.”

INDIA’S GATEWAY TO CENTRAL ASIA

In July 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a historic visit of five Central Asian nations, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan and the main objective was ensuring India’s future energy security. For India, Afghanistan is the gateway to Central Asia and a stable Afghanistan with greater access will go a long way in fulfilling India’s objective.

GREATER LEVERAGE IN DEALING WITH TERROR GROUPS

A wider presence in Afghanistan will give India greater leverage in dealing with the terror groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State which are trying to establish their Indian footprint. There groups are currently using restive regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan as their gateway opportunity to the Indian Subcontinent.

OPPORTUNITY FOR INDIAN INDUSTRY IN AFGHANISTAN’S RECONSTRUCTION

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.

Now with the US policy change, seeking an enhanced Indian role, coupled with the fact it seeks to limit the Pakistan’s presence there, Indian companies have an opportunity to invest more in Afghanistan, especially when the US wants to win the war on terror, its longest foreign war that is on for the past 16 years, at any cost. A drastic change in the US policy to crack down on Afghan terrorists with a free hand to security forces can effectively take care of the terror menace. How big the opportunity is can be gauged from the fact that the US has spent over $100 Billion of Afghanistan reconstruction yet it is just far from producing any tangible outcome and now that Trump has made it clear that there will be no more ‘blank check’ from the US, the door is wide open.

Also, Afghanistan in future can emerge as a big push for Make in India initiative for India’s nascent defence industry as the country would need a sustained military supply to handle not only its internal terror threats but also to secure its contentious borders with Pakistan, a terror exporter that has been destabilizing Afghanistan for the past four decades.

KEEPING PAKISTANI AND CHINESE DESIGNS IN CHECK

If Pakistan has used Afghanistan as its junkyard to push terrorists there to maintain its hegemony and export them to India at the same time, China, too, has been trying to increase its influence there owing to Afghanistan’s geographical advantage but so far has failed. A stable Afghanistan, which is fiercely against Pakistan, can in fact give India strategic advantage by providing a valuable military base in future, overlooking both Pakistan and China. It is important for India as reports indicate that China is going to establish its military base in Pakistan, most probably at the Gwadar port in India’s backyard.

©SantoshChaubey