New Afghan strategy threatens graduated sanctions on Pakistan

Published August 12, 2017
US Senator John McCain addressing a press conference in Kabul earlier this year.—AFP/File
US Senator John McCain addressing a press conference in Kabul earlier this year.—AFP/File

WASHINGTON: US Senator John McCain has unveiled his long-promised strategy for Afghanistan, which threatens “imposing graduated diplomatic, military, and economic costs on Pakistan” if it continues to provide the alleged support and sanctuary to terrorist and insurgent groups, including the Taliban and the Haqqani Network.

The strategy, issued on Thursday afternoon as an amendment to next fiscal year’s defence bill, includes providing additional US troops for counter-terrorism missions. It also allows US advisers to work closer to the front lines with Afghan officers and giving US commanders a broader authority to target Taliban insurgents, Islamic State militants and other militias.

Senator McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Com­mittee, has long threatened to force a strategy on the administration if it doesn’t come up with one to win the 16-year-old war. Mr McCain said some of America’s “most experienced and respected former military and intelligence officials” contributed to this strategy.

Besides threatening Pakistan with new sanctions, the proposed policy also outlines the potential benefits of a long-term US-Pakistan strategic partnership that could result from Pakistan’s cessation of support for all terrorist and insurgent groups and constructive role in bringing about a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan.

The plan suggests a regional dialogue including Afghanistan, Pak­istan, China, India, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and other nations to promote Afghan political reconciliation.

It proposes intensifying US regional diplomatic efforts working through flexible frameworks to encourage this dialogue to advance regional cooperation on issues such as border security, intelligence sharing, counter-narcotics, transportation, and trade. Senator McCain hopes that this would “reduce mistrust and build confidence among regional states”.

Last month, the US Department of Defence also issued a report, “Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan”, which recognises Pakistan as “the most influential external actor affecting Afghan stability and the outcome of both the US and Nato missions” and suggests using both carrot and stick to achieve its cooperation.

And last week, US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster indicated that a new US strategy for Afghanistan may include this “carrot and stick” approach. The White House, which has a team of experts working on the new strategy, had promised to release it by mid-July. State Department spokesperson Hea­ther Nauert told a news briefing on Thursday that the administration “will roll out” the plan but did not say when.

Senator McCain visited Pakistan and Afghanistan last month with a team of senior US lawmakers and in an interview to PTV emphasised the importance of Pakistan’s support for US efforts to end the Afghan war.

While announcing his new strategy, Senator McCain criticised both Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, saying: “President Obama’s ‘don’t lose’ strategy has put us on a path to achieving the opposite result. Now, nearly seven months into President Trump’s administration, we’ve had no strategy at all as conditions on the ground have steadily worsened.”

Mr McCain said the goal of this strategy was to “ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a sanctuary for terrorists to plot and conduct attacks against America, our allies, or our interests”.

His integrated civil-military plan for Afghanistan suggests the following strategic objectives:

Deny, disrupt, degrade, and destroy the ability of terrorist groups to conduct attacks against the United States, its allies, or its core interests.

Prevent the Taliban from using military force to overthrow the government of Afghanistan and reduce the Taliban’s control of the Afghan population.

Improve the capability and capacity of the Afghan government to the extent of feasible and practicable to defeat terrorist and insurgent groups as well as sustainably and independently provide security throughout Afghanistan.

Establish security conditions in Afghanistan necessary to encourage and facilitate a negotiated peace process that supports Afghan political reconciliation and an eventual diplomatic resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

Forge a regional diplomatic consensus in support of the long-term stabilisation of Afghanistan through integration into regional patterns of political, security, and economic cooperation.

Bolster US counterterrorism efforts by: Increasing the number of US counterterrorism forces in Afghanistan.

Providing the US military with status-based targeting authorities against the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other terrorist groups.

Pursuing a joint agreement to secure a long-term, open-ended counterterrorism partnership between the United States and the Afghan government, with an enduring US counterterrorism presence in Afghanistan.

Improving the military capability and capacity of the Afghan national forces against the Taliban and other terrorist groups by:

Establishing US military training and advisory teams and significantly increasing US air power and other critical combat enablers to support Afghan operations.

Providing sustained support to Afghan forces by providing key enabling capabilities, including intelligence, logistics, special forces, air lift, and close air support.

Strictly conditioning further US military, economic, and governance assistance programmes to the Afghan government upon measurable progress in achieving joint US-Afghan benchmarks for institutional reforms, especially those related to anti-corruption, financial transparency, and rule of law.

Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2017

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