The great game in Afghanistan and limited options for US

Truth Tracker in its editorial for September 1, 2017 issue had forecasted, “He (President Trump) looks toward India for a military role in Afghanistan, but India cannot do that effectively because it has no ground link to Afghanistan.”

On September 26, India’s Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, after talks with US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis on Delhi, clarified that India would not deploy troops in Afghanistan. She told a presser with Mattis, “We have made it very clear, there should not be boots from India on the ground.”

The Trump Administration, after a clear signal by India about zero chances of its military’s involvement in the war-ridden Afghanistan, has left with limited options.

President Trump’s new Afghan Policy and finger-pointing at Pakistan has widened the gulf of differences between the two old allies. He had said, “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond. Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists.”

In a stunning move, Pakistan’s new Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, while addressing the Asia Society forum on September 27, said, “Don’t blame us for the Haqqanis [the Haqqani Network] and don’t blame us for the Hafiz Saeeds [referring to the head of banned Jamaatud Dawa]. These were the people who were your darlings just 20 to 30 years back. They were being dined and wined in the White House and now you say go to hell Pakistanis because you are nurturing these people’.”

He said, “It is very easy to say Pakistan is floating the Haqqanis and Hafiz Saeed and Lashkar-e-Taiba. They are liabilities. I accept that they are liabilities, but give us time to get rid of them because we don’t have the assets to match these liabilities and you are increasing them further.”

He said that Pakistan is ready to work with the United States for effective management of the Afghan border to stop terrorist infiltration and to facilitate a peace settlement in Afghanistan.

Asif’s statement must be stunning not only for the US Administration but also for Pakistan’s ruling establishment. At the same time, it indicates that Pakistan is ready to revisit its internal and foreign policies.

The great game in Afghanistan is now taking a vivid shape. India has refused to provide military support. China and Russia are also supporting Pakistan on Afghanistan’s issue. A new bloc comprising Russia, Pakistan, China, Iran and Turkey is likely to emerge in near future. The important feature of this possible alliance is that all countries, except Turkey, are the key players, having borders with Afghanistan.

Apparently, the US has only three options. First, leave Afghanistan and let the Afghan nation and regional players decide its fate. Second, revisit its (US) policies about the role of Pakistan, China, Iran and Russia to bring peace in Afghanistan and the region. Third, increase its troops in Afghanistan and handle the military operations single handedly till it achieves the target.

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