Talking Tough with Islamabad

US National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster has said that the Trump administration is working on a policy which would apply to both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and would be announced soon.

The US is deliberating upon a military-heavy policy option to turn the tables in Afghanistan since it employed the GBU 43 bomb against IS last month in Nangarhar. A change in policy was deemed necessary because of Taliban’s swift and unabated resurgence. There have been many deliberations and statements but McMaster is the first senior official who has talked about the new policy applying to Pakistan too.

“And so what we’ll have at the end of the next few weeks here is an opportunity for a much more effective strategy for the problem set in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the region broadly,” Gen McMaster told a White House news briefing this weekend.

The adviser said the administration was considering a proposal to send thousands of additional troops to Afghan­istan and President Donald Trump would decide when to do so after he returns from his foreign trips later this month. This is in-line with the request of the US commander General John Nicholson.

The reference to Pakistan came days after the Intelligence top brass in the US casted aspersions on Islamabad’s fight against terror.

In a statement to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Director National Intelligence, Daniel R Coats talked about the threats emanating from Pakistan to its neighbors and the United States.

“Pakistani-based terrorist groups will present a sustained threat to US interests in the region and continue to plan and conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan. The threat to the United States and the West from Pakistani-based terrorist groups will be persistent but diffuse,” he said.

The word is abuzz that the new strategy will be Pentagon-led, based around increased troop presence and aerial bombings.  Recent events have compelled the US to think about a policy shift. The Taliban are attacking the US-trained ANA with impunity, as of now they control 58% of Afghan territory.

The obvious inability of the Afghan state organs in dealing with the Taliban coupled with the Kabul-Delhi joint demand for action against Pakistan has forced the US to vociferously reiterate its “do more” demand.

What Should Islamabad Expect?

Pakistan is currently being accused of festering two potent resistance movements, one in Kashmir and the other in Afghanistan. Kabul and New Delhi clamor for controlling an “unbridled and unruly” Pakistan through stern measures. Pakistan is thus engaged in skirmishes with Afghanistan and India, both of which are likely to flare up further.

There are many senior ranked officials in Washington who buy the assertions of India and Afghanistan, to include Gen McMaster. He enunciated his misgivings during his visit to the region last month.

As all of us have hoped for many years, we have hoped that Pakistani leaders will understand that it is in their interest to go after these groups less selectively than they have in the past and the best way to pursue their interest in Afghanistan and elsewhere is through diplomacy not through the use of proxies that engage in violence,” he stated in an interview to Tolo News.

He called upon Pakistan to fight terrorism in all forms and manifestation. This was reflective of long-held opinion about Pakistan’s cherry picking of terrorists. One can make out that the US will sternly ask Pakistan to end its so-called dualism.

Thus, we can expect the US to exert much more pressure on Pakistan. Despite the fact that in a trilateral meeting held in GHQ Rawalpindi, the military brass of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US agreed to take on Daesh through complementary efforts.

There is every likelihood that the US might up its drone and aerial campaign to target alleged camps in FATA. Further, the US could also put pressure on Islamabad to eliminate   suspected training camps of Jihadi outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba. This is possible given what Gen McMaster said in the briefing about not allowing territories to be used by inimical non state actors.

Gen McMaster said he would stress the need for “all of us have to be committed to achieving our fundamental objectives in Afghanistan,” which is never to allow extremists to use that country once again for launching terrorist attacks.

If these briefings are anything to go by then the US could very well carry out limited military actions inside FATA to pluck-out hostile elements to US war efforts in Afghanistan. Concomitant to these would be threat of sanctions on pretext of Pakistan’s acquisition of Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs), something which was addressed by Daniel Coat in his statement. In all the policy shift could adversely affect Pak-US ties in the near future.

The US has to understand that healthy relations with Islamabad are essential for its extrication from the Afghan quagmire. There is an old military adage that never reinforce a failure. The US besides lacking strategic acumen, employed a wrong war-fighting concept against the warring factions in Afghanistan. Force application did little to target the Taliban’s center of gravity. The results are there for all to see. Taliban’s war-waging capability has been honed and hence they continue to take swathes of territory; they are a military and a political force much stronger than the Afghan government. It is difficult to hope that a military surge would implore the Taliban to come back in the fray especially when the mainstay of their resurgence is their resistance to foreign occupation. Indeed, if the 2010-upsurge is any guide, then this new policy is likely to fail.

The US has to support an Afghan-owned peace process if it wants a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan. Needless to say, it has to engage Islamabad and assuage its fears vis-à-vis Afghanistan. Pakistani concerns are well documented and elicit from a threat of encirclement by India.

In order to garner the support of Islamabad the US has to distance itself from purely bilateral matters between India and Pakistan. A positive start can be taken if the US ends its opposition to TNWs. US concerns on an issue which only deals with New Delhi does not go down well with Islamabad.

Syed Ali Zia Jaffery

Syed Ali Zia Jaffery

Syed Ali Zia Jaffery is a Research Analyst and Sub-Editor at Global Village Space (GVS). He frequently writes on defense and strategic affairs of South Asia. He is a Contributing Analyst to CommandEleven.
Syed Ali Zia Jaffery

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