WASHINGTON: If elected to the White House, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump would keep US troops in Afghanistan to ‘protect’ Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

“I think you have to stay in Afghanistan for a while, because of the fact that you are right next to Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons and we have to protect that,” said Mr Trump while responding to a question during Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate.

Mr Trump is an outsider who blitzkrieged into the 2016 Republican presidential campaign and propelled himself into the first position by capturing the highest number of delegates in early primaries. He is particularly popular among conservative Republicans and in rural America, where 70 per cent white voters live.

“Nuclear weapons change the game,” said the billionaire campaigner while explaining why Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal necessitated continued US military presence in Afghanistan.

Last year, Mr Trump suggested involving India in efforts to denuclearise Pakistan. “You have to get India involved. India’s the check to Pakistan,” he said in a radio address in September.

“They (India) have their own nukes and have a very powerful army. They seem to be the real check... I think we have to deal very closely with India to deal with it (Pakistan),” he added.

Mr Trump’s suggestion to keep US troops in Afghanistan was one of the few serious references to foreign policy issues at the presidential debate.

Most US media outlets described the debate in Detroit, Michigan, as a two-hour long shouting match with no substance.

The prestigious New Yorker magazine ran its report on the debate with the headline: “Donald Trump and an even cruder Republican debate.”

“One clear loser in Thursday’s debate: the Grand Old (Republican) Party,” The Washington Post reported.

The post noted that following his big wins in Super Tuesday primaries, “this might have been the night when Trump could safely shift into statesman mode”. But he lost the opportunity.

Last week, former CIA director Michael Hayden said in an interview to a US media outlet that the American military would refuse to obey Mr Trump if he gets elected and orders them to torture prisoners or kill the families of terrorists.

At the debate, a moderator, Bret Baier, asked Mr Trump to comment on Gen Hayden’s statement. Mr Trump rejected the suggestion that the US military would defy their president.

“But they’re illegal,” Mr Baier reminded him. “Let me just tell you, look at the Middle East. They’re chopping off heads,” Mr Trump said.

“I said it’s fine! And if we want to go stronger, I’d go stronger, too,” said Mr Trump, while defending his earlier statement that he would allow waterboarding to coerce information from suspected terrorists. The remarks earned him a wild applause from the audience.

“What would these animals over in the Middle East, that chopped off heads think of a hesitation to commit war crimes?” Mr Trump asked.

“We should go for waterboarding and we should go tougher than waterboarding.”

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2016

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