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Afghanistan, India, and Donald Trump

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December 28, 2016

What’s the news?

  • Donald Trump will take over as the 45th President of the USA on Jan 20 next year, at a time when the U.S. remains engaged in the longest war in its history — the war in Afghanistan.He will be the third President to deal with the war launched in 2001.
  • Even though ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ ended in 2014 implying an end to formal combat operations, the U.S. still maintains troops under ‘Operation Resolute Support’.

What are the gains and losses?

  • The U.S. alone has spent more than $800 billion in Afghanistan, of which $115 billion has been spent on reconstruction.
  • The ISAF suffered 3,500 fatal casualties, with the U.S. bearing 2400 lives.The Afghan civilian and security forces casualties are estimated at 31,000 and 30000 respectively.
  • At the NATO summit in Warsaw, it was agreed to maintain the international troop presence till 2020 while providing annual support of $4.5 billion for the Afghan security forces.
  • Some progress has been registered. Life expectancy and Literacy rate have both gone up. The number of children in school is now more than 8 million (from 9 lakhs). But, this progress can be sustained only if peace can be restored.

What are the different political approaches?

  • Former president of Afghanistan, Mr. Karzai referred to India “as an old friend” and Pakistan as “a brother and conjoined twin”. It really does capture Pakistan’s critical role.
  • Eventually, he became exasperated with Pakistan’s rebuffs and tried, unsuccessfully, to open up his own channels for dialogue with Taliban.
  • Mr. Ghani went a step further. He tacitly accepted Pakistan’s demand that Afghanistan diminish the salience of its relationship with India, if Pakistan would play a positive role to ensure political reconciliation.
  • However, as insurgency grew, he publicly blamed Pakistan of sending “a message of war” when he had held out a hand of peace.
  • In their own fashion, both Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama saw the Pakistan problem but were content to manage the situation rather than push for a solution.

Did Pakistan overreach?

  • What Pakistan has been seeking is to exercise a veto over Kabul’s relations with Delhi, which the Afghans are unwilling to concede.
  • Pakistan’s policies towards both India and Afghanistan are determined primarily by the Army which sees India as an existential threat.
  • Since relations with India are unlikely to normalise in the foreseeable future, the only way out for Pakistan to play a constructive role in Afghanistan is to accept the idea of Afghan sovereignty and autonomy and refrain from making it a zone of India-Pakistan rivalry.
  • Unless Pakistan changes its attitude, political reconciliation in Afghanistan will remain unlikely.

What about Taliban’s role?

  • The challenge for Kabul is that it has to engage in multiple reconciliation processes — with the Taliban and with the Pakistani army.
  • The hardline Taliban represented by the Haqqani network is determined to continue the fight militarily.
  • However, even the more moderate who are willing to talk demand the exit of all foreign forces from Afghanistan. Not only could this bring about a collapse of the fragile coalition but it would also reduce the international financial support.
  • Power sharing can be worked out, but no government in Kabul can accept this Taliban redline.

What is the “India factor”?

  • India has had the most effective economic cooperation programme, having spent more than $2 billion and committed another billion dollars earlier this year.Indians have also lost lives in deliberate but this has not diminished the Indian role.
  • It has only cemented Afghan-Indian relations which are now developing a military dimension. Never again will India be forced to close down its embassy in Kabul as it happened during the Taliban regime.

Concluding remarks

  • When Donald Trump takes charge, he will find that he has little choice in the matter. A complete withdrawal is out of question.
  • His challenge will be to change the calculus of the Pakistani establishment, increase capabilities of the Afghan security forces, and, in 2019, support an election in Afghanistan that brings about a more cohesive government.
  • In all this, he will find the Indian government to be a reliable and trusted partner.

Category: Mains | GS – II | International Relations

Source: The Hindu

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