In his address to the UN last month, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told the international community in no uncertain terms that Pakistan wouldn’t tolerate being made a scapegoat in the war next door in Afghanistan. This was a not so indirect response to Donald Trump’s new strategic vision for that country. Thus did our PM go on to say that Pakistan believed in urgent and realistic goals across the border. These included the complete elimination of terrorist groups such as ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. He said all this while also adding that aside from the Afghan people — it was the people of his country who had suffered the most from some four decades of foreign intervention and civil wars across our western border. He concluded by saying that since the last 16 years of the US-led war has not achieved any semblance of peace in Afghanistan the time had now come to put other options on the table. Mr Abbasi has a point. Post-9/11, the US has deployed more than 100,000 troops next door, carried out massive aerial strikes, including strategic bombers, conducted more than 10,000 intelligence-based operations throughout the country. And all for what? With the cost of war put at $1trillion and rising, just under half of Afghan territory today is either contested by or controlled by the Taliban. Meaning that the Ghani regime has no effective writ outside of the presidential palace. In addition, infrastructure has more or less been demolished while the agriculture sector is virtually non-existent. And Afghanistan’s ranking on the Human Development Index is one of the world’s worst. Given all this, I hesitate not to conclude that the US military intervention must have been directed with the sole purpose of achieving maximum unrest and instability. Without a single shadow of a doubt — Uncle Sam has utterly and totally failed to understand Afghanistan in terms of ground realities, just as it failed to view the country through the lens of its own particular socio-cultural value system. Which led the US to one of its greatest missteps: namely the bringing together of distinct ethnic groups in an American myopic vision of Afghan unity. Local resentment at having this model imposed upon them from above paved the way for the Taliban to take advantage of such fissures. The Trump vision allows the US a regional presence all the better to keep a watchful eye on both China and Russia. Not to mention positioning itself so it can monitor Iran’s nuclear programme Similarly, when it comes to Afghanistan’s economic development — Trump appears to be a man without a plan. The country has been decimated to the point whereby people don’t have access to the basics. This relentless socio-economic degradation leads to mass frustration which, in turn, may precipitate mass aggression. This is the difference between trying to win a war by brute force and trying to win hearts and mind. Yet after more than a decade-and-a-half in the Afghan quagmire — the US finds itself without any sort of long-term economic rescue plan. This has led some experts to openly point out that Washington has no roadmap to extricate itself from Afghanistan and that the Trump troop surge is simply a delaying tactic. With great power comes great responsibility. And being the world’s lone superpower, the US is alacritous when it comes to playing a larger role in the geo-politic of South Asia, having so readily jumped between the sheets with new political bed mate, India. This new policy allows America to engage with the region while keeping in mind its long-term political and strategic objectives. Though it is proving a rather rocky road on this front. Firstly, the US is inclined to stay put in Afghanistan so it can better keep a watchful eye on Beijing. Secondly, Moscow is showing active signs of re-engagement with the region. Thirdly, Washington wants to position itself so that it can monitor Tehran’s nuclear programme. And fourthly, there is the question of ISIS and its emergence as a non-conventional security threat within both the South Asian and Central Asian theatres. Thus in order to confront these challenges — the Trump administration would rather see an increase to its military and intelligence capacity in Afghanistan. But make no mistake, the end goal is not peace in that country but, rather, to prepare for an expanded US role in this region. And now, let us turn once more to PM Abbasi’s speech. He was firm but fair when he said that the only solution for Afghanistan was a negotiated peace. And he is right. It’s the only means to securing regional stability. And Pakistan has always supported peace next door. Sadly, however, the international community is reluctant to acknowledge this — just as it is reluctant to acknowledge our sacrifices towards this end. No regional or extra-regional player can deny the geographical realities of South Asia. At the heart of which must lie cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And all those actors, including India, who are doing their best to sow the seeds of distrust between Islamabad and Kabul — are the real enemies of a peaceful and secure South Asia. Resultantly, our policy makers find themselves tasked with even greater responsibility when it comes to moving cautiously, while avoiding at all costs siding with either of two major powers battling it out for regional supremacy in this latest chapter of the New Great Game. The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance columnist, Twitter: @mmsb1000 Published in Daily Times, October 7th 2017.