Trump on Afghanistan

Updated July 25, 2019

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THE American president is not known for his politically correct remarks, be it on pressing domestic issues or delicate matters of foreign affairs.

In his recent interaction with Prime Minister Imran Khan, Donald Trump spoke about the Afghan issue — a concern that largely shapes the Trump administration’s views vis-à-vis Pakistan.

However, what Mr Trump said has raised a furore of sorts, with the Afghan government seeking clarification of his comments.

Perhaps meaning to indicate his lack of appetite for further foreign wars, the US president said while meeting Mr Khan that he could easily win the Afghan conflict but did not “want to kill 10m people”, while adding that the US could wipe Afghanistan “off the face of the earth”.

Whatever Mr Trump meant to say, his comments have come across as arrogant and insensitive; oddly, the presidential bluster comes as the US peace envoy is headed to Kabul for talks with the Afghan Taliban.

Unfortunately, the US has been unable to extricate itself from Afghanistan for nearly two decades.

What started off as a mission to punish those supposedly involved in the Sept 11 terror attacks has transformed into an open-ended war; moreover, the Americans have also attempted nation-building in Afghanistan, trying to transplant a Western model of democracy in a tribal society already reeling from instability and war since the 1970s.

However, these attempts have failed to bear fruit, as the nation remains divided along ethno-linguistic lines, while the Taliban are said to control nearly half of the country.

The fact is that the US must acknowledge that its ‘shock-and-awe’ tactics in the country, and its attempts to engineer a political and social structure, have utterly failed.

Instead of making misguided comments about obliterating Afghanistan and killing millions of people, the American president needs to highlight a doable exit strategy.

Moreover, the American establishment must admit that its cavalier attempts at nation-building in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya were wrong and that its efforts have left these nations worse off.

However, Mr Trump was right when he said Pakistan could help the US exit Afghanistan.

Indeed, this country has played and should continue to play a role in bringing peace to Afghanistan.

Moreover, instability in the latter has been one of the major factors behind the sociopolitical upheaval in Pakistan, especially in the wake of the Soviet invasion.

Yet while Pakistan, the US, and all neighbours of Afghanistan have key roles to play where facilitating peace between Kabul and the Taliban is concerned, the process needs to be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.

The shuttle diplomacy between Kabul, Doha and other cities is continuing to persuade the Taliban to sign a peace deal.

But the process is slow and painstaking, which is why foreign players must be careful about the comments they make, and not risk inflaming the situation with loose talk.

Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2019