Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

The Trump Administration's Afghan Policy: Implications for Regional Security

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

The Trump Administration's Afghan Policy: Implications for Regional Security

Article excerpt

The U.S. has decided to implement a new policy for ending the war in Afghanistan. In his landmark policy speech in August 2017, President Donald Trump demanded Pakistan change its dual policy of receiving financial aid from the U.S. and simultaneously providing shelter to terror outfits on its soil. Trump did well to justify continued American engagement in Afghanistan while not specifying the increase in troop level. A U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would have prompted the collapse of Afghan government institutions and most likely resulted in increased regional rivalry and tensions. Although the ultimate policy objective remains political reconciliation in Afghanistan, the Trump administration believes that only a strong Afghan government, coupled with gains on the battlefield, will force the Taliban to consider a peace settlement. The article argues that Trump's Afghan policy is likely to enhance India's role and contribution to Afghanistan's reconstruction and development while making India a critical part of America's new South Asia strategy. The article points to changing regional geopolitics in light of the closer Indo-U.S.-Afghan alignment.

Trump announced his much-awaited Afghanistan strategy on 22 August 2017, the central pillar of which is a marked shift in Washington's approach towards Islamabad. While paving the way for the deployment of more American troops to Afghanistan, President Trump criticised Pakistan for offering sanctuary to "agents of chaos." He said that the U.S. "can no longer be silent about Pakistan's safe havens for terrorist organisations ... We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting ... That will have to change and that will change immediately."1 Over the course of a fluctuating relationship between Islamabad and Washington, Pakistan has continued to serve as safe haven for portions of the intractable Taliban, enabling them to successfully outlast the U.S. under the Obama administration's Afghan strategy.

Challenges Facing the Trump Administration

President Trump's Afghan policy review came with the growing realisation that America's "mission Afghanistan" was on the brink of collapse. A war that started under President George Bush in October 2001 with the hunt for the Al Qaeda-linked attackers of 9/11 has turned into a fruitless military effort to keep Afghanistan's fragile democracy alive amid a brutal Taliban insurgency supported and financed by Pakistan's security establishment.

The mission had begun well. The U.S.-led military campaign to oust Al Qaeda and the Taliban was very successful in the initial stage. The strategy was a combination of air power and a ground offensive conducted jointly by the Northern Alliance, Afghan militia opposing the Taliban, and a few hundred U.S. Special Operations Forces. In March 2002, the last resisting Taliban and Al Qaeda bands were defeated in Tora Bora and the Shah-iKot valley. In the aftermath of this seemingly successful campaign, the U.S. was keen to switch to a "light footprint" strategy in Afghanistan because of the undeniable history of Afghan hostility towards foreign occupation and the fate of previous invaders who had experienced humiliating defeat at the hands of the Afghans. The progress achieved by Afghanistan in the initial years seemed to justify this strategy. Democratic elections, reconstruction projects, and an improvement in the overall security situation convinced the international community and the Afghans that the country was headed in the right direction. But all the positive developments proved short-lived and could not paper over the disturbing realities for long.

The failure of the new Afghan government to provide basic services, the uneven and arbitrary distribution of development funds, an overreliance on powerful warlords and militia commanders for providing security, ineffective and corrupt administrations on the district and provincial levels, as well as rising unemployment led to dissatisfaction and disenchantment in rural areas, which only increased in time. …

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