July 21, 2017
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is expected to announce his policy for Afghanistan before the end of this month, amid growing concerns about the increasing presence of Islamic State and other terrorists groups in the region.
Trump’s move to give more authority to the Pentagon is welcomed across the board, from U.S. army officials to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
U.S. lawmakers have many issues to consider, but a new policy in Afghanistan has been one of the most talked-about topics in Afghan and Pakistani media since Trump took office.
Analysts are divided over the probability the Trump administration plans a major policy shift in Afghanistan. However, the administration has been vocal about increasing the number of troops on the ground.
Strategy first, analysts say
“It’s pointless to commit to a troop surge when there’s no strategy to support it,” said Michael Kugleman, a senior analyst at Washington’s Wilson Center. “You need a plan for how to engage with a very weak and divided Afghan government and a plan to approach the issue of Taliban reconciliation.”
Trump recently said he is still trying to understand what the U.S. has been doing in Afghanistan for so long.
Afghanistan, on the other hand, is looking to the U.S. leader to get tough on Pakistan, which Afghan officials have repeatedly accused of supporting the Taliban. Islamabad has denied the charge.
In a recent tweet, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmey Khalilzad suggested targeting terrorists’ safe sanctuaries in Pakistan. Even Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington, Hussain Haqqani, has recently advocated the U.S. take a tougher position against Pakistan for a solution to problems inside Afghanistan.
Troop increase welcomed
Afghan President Ghani has welcomed the Pentagon’s decision to increase the number of troops, but in the absence of a concrete and defined strategy, security affairs experts say, the increase does not give them much hope for peace in the region.
“The Trump administration and Obama administration before it, and even to some level the Bush administration, have all suffered by too much focus on the troops’ number and then coming to the strategy afterwards,” professor Daniel Markey of John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies said. “The troops number should be the end of the conversation, the beginning should be what the broader strategy is.”
Experts agree there is a need to take a tougher stance against Pakistan for allegedly providing haven to the most notorious terror groups, including but not limited to, the Haqqani network.
“You will have to convince Pakistani policymakers that their current strategy won’t work, and that means going after their favorite proxies. But threats alone won’t help,” Markey said. Pakistan has said it does not support terrorist groups and has suffered heavy casualties fighting terrorists.
Kugleman said he thinks Pakistan does go after some terrorists groups but turns a blind eye to the others. He said the Trump administration will have no patience for this policy.
“That’s a position Trump himself would likely find insupportable. A logical consequence of a tougher position on terrorism in Pakistan would be to step up the drone war and take out terrorist targets that Pakistan refuse to take out itself,” he said.
Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department released its annual “Country Reports on Terrorism 2016,” which accuses Pakistan of not taking significant action to constrain the activities of the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network.