WASHINGTON: The United States wants to withdraw from Afghanistan but instead of leaving it in chaos it wants the country’s neighbours to shoulder the responsibility for keeping peace and security in the war-torn country.
US President Donald Trump outlined this new strategy in a recent cabinet meeting, also naming the countries — India, Russia and Pakistan — he wants to step-in to fill the vacuum even a partial US withdrawal from Afghanistan would create.
In doing so, Trump was simply reflecting the views that are often expressed in Washington’s power circles, particularly in think-tanks and congressional hearings.
The US media reported that in recent meetings with some US lawmakers, Trump also indicated his willing to pull out of all apparently “unending wars” and sought their support to do so. Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the staunchest advocate of US military presence in Syria and Afghanistan, also said this week that he too understood the need for recalling the troops but he wanted “a slow and gradual” withdrawal.
Washington’s Pew Research Centre, which conducts annual surveys of US public opinions on Afghanistan, reported recently that by the end of 2018 the Afghan war had become very unpopular.
Pew’s most recent survey showed that 49 per cent American adults believed the US had failed in Afghanistan. About a third (35 per cent) said it could still succeed while 16 per cent said they were not sure if the US was succeeding or failing.
The US media noted that when Trump said last week, he would soon recall half of the 14,000 troops from Afghanistan, he was only reflecting a popular opinion.
On Wednesday, two prominent US scholars — Robert D. Kaplan, a former advisor to the Pentagon and Doug Bandow, a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan — not only supported Trump’s desire for leaving Afghanistan but also suggested persuading Kabul’s neighbours to fill in the gap.
In opinion pieces published in The New York Times and The American Conservative magazine, they also proposed including Iran and Chinaamong the countries that should ensure Afghanistan’s security.
Apparently, Trump echoed similar views when he suggested roping-in neighbouring states but he only named India, Pakistan and Russia. He omitted China and Iran.
Trump questioned the hesitation of other regional powers in getting involved in Afghanistan. “Why is not Russia there? Why isn’t India there? Why isn’t Pakistan there? Why are we there?” he asked.
“We are 6,000 miles away. But I don’t mind. We want to help our people. We want to help other nations,” Trump told reporters in response to a question during the cabinet meeting.
He said that all these countries were being unfair to the US which had spent billions of dollars in Afghanistan in the past 17 years.
“I want people to treat us fairly,” he said while pointing out that some friendly countries were “just sending some 100 or 200 soldiers” while the US still had 14,000 troops there.
Noting that the Soviet Union went bankrupt while fighting in Afghanistan, he urged neighbouring states to pool their resources to defeat terrorism there. “Pakistan is there. They should be fighting. Russia should be fighting,” he said.
Published in Dawn, January 5th, 2019