Donald Trump has missed the deadline for his first Af-Pak review. All he knows is that his men in uniform have, in the last six months, failed to win the longest war in US history.
Yet it is bête noire Pakistan that is reportedly keeping the unquiet American up at night. Like those before him, President Trump blames this country for prolonging the war next door by harbouring the Afghan Taliban. Also like those before him, he is still pondering just how much stick and how much carrot to show. These things matter. After all, he doesn’t want us to think he’s asking for it.
Trump may well be kicking himself over sidelining Nawaz Sharif back in Riyadh. He can’t even find solace in the fact that the former Prime Minister found himself at the receiving end of even greater humiliation closer to home. The face may have changed but the government remains the same, for now. As does the security establishment, for longer than now.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. For better or worse, we have been a consistent partner over the last 16 years. What is therefore needed is out-of-the-box thinking on Afghanistan. By this we don’t mean whitewashing what may or may not have been our role in the conflict. What we do mean, however, is that as long as the Americans look at that country through the same myopic lens — they will find themselves entrapped for another decade-and-a-half, throwing another $800 billion down the proverbial drain.
What do we suggest?
Bluntly put, the US must begin by recognising its actual role in the Afghan quagmire as opposed to the one it would choose for itself. Meaning it must accept the shaky legal premise for its presence next door. There has never been anything concrete to link Afghanistan to the 9/11 attacks. Moreover the UNSC never authorised the use of military aggression. Thus the US needs to hold its hands up and admit its status as unlawful military occupying power, regardless of how much it would have itself hide behind the Afghan National Army. And as such, the Americans and the Americans alone are responsible for the security of the country it occupies.
The Taliban have been very clear from the start that they will fight until they drive out US forces. It matters not whether there is a troop surge. Only that there is a withdrawal. Despite recent murmuring to the contrary. As long as the US is an occupying power — it continues to feed the Taliban narrative that casts its members as freedom fighters battling imperialist forces. Similarly, this sees Pakistan recast in the role of agent provocateur so as not to be on the wrong side of Empire.
There is only one way to de-legitimise this. And it is not by threats of increased drone strikes on this side of the border or the threat of redirection of aid. Or indeed by showing us just that bit too much stick that would see us demoted from major non-NATO ally. It is by a full and complete pullout. And Donald Trump might yet be just the man to do it.*
Published in Daily Times, August 10th 2017.