There are six encouraging and bold pillars in the new US strategy on Afghanistan as outlined by President Donald Trump.
First, it is an acknowledgement of the fact that Pakistan has been playing a destructive and dubious role in Afghanistan by providing support and sanctuary to terrorists and agents of chaos and that a diplomatic solution must be found for this problem.
The US has never been this open and frank on Pakistan’s duplicity. As a global power, the US shouldn’t escape from its words and policies and must follow up until Islamabad and its powerful army and intelligence stop nourishing the Taliban and other terrorist groups.
Second, recognizing India as a strategic partner for security and economic development in Afghanistan is also a bold and fresh statement. The US has never in the last 40 years openly portrayed India as a partner. The partnership with India will reduce the cost and burden for the NATO-led alliance and increase the cost of interference and disruption for spoilers and masters of the proxy groups. This also tears apart the suffocating and false notion that the US has no ally in the region should it go tough with Pakistan.
Third, reiterating the centrality of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) in defense of Afghan values, and safeguarding the space for democratic & constitutional play by keeping the Taliban and other terrorists at bay with military and financial assistance of the US.
The clarity in this message brushes away and kills the notion as often propagated and promoted by apologists and cynics, that the cost of peace will be a compromise of Afghan achievements and institutions. The ANDSF will remain a constant and the Afghan political and democratic process will not be derailed by deals and decisions outside the country and by the strength of the Taliban insurgency. A grand bargain won’t mean a grand collapse and shouldn’t.
Fourth, by stating a clear division of labor between the Afghan state and its international allies, the US has made it clear for good and noble reasons that it is not here to change the fabric of Afghan society and its culture or impose alien values. There is a convergence of interest in the area of security and stability and there are areas of divergence on how Afghans want to deal with the complexity of their society.
This creates a lot of ease on how Afghans pursue their political ambitions as long as they stick to the constitutional order. It also elevates the US to a partner of all, not just the ruling faction. It asks the National Unity Government of Afghanistan to be honest, serious and sincere in its fight against corruption and the building of key institutions by looking beyond factional interest and sub-national politics.
Fifth, the new strategy, in contrast to the previous one, respects the principle of strategic hierarchy of conduct and operational silence. It gives a broad, yet secret, set of authorities to Gen. Nicholson, the commander of US troops in Afghanistan as well as his future successors the authority to make tactical judgments without constantly referring to Washington.
The restrictive caveats are apparently removed. This will enable the Resolute Support Mission (RSM) to have a justifiably freer hand in conducting its day to day activities. Simplifying the command structure and respecting the authority of the highest ranking general on the ground is a welcome move. It shows that the Trump administration has adhered to age-old precious military principles and texts to ensure victory and win.
Sixth, the commitment to stay long enough to achieve the desired outcome and prevail, and reverse the Taliban strategy by taking the time from them and giving them watches instead. A negotiated settlement has not been ruled out, however, talks under duress and at gunpoint has been ruled out.
If Washington stays focused to this part, it will send a signal to regional spoilers that there won’t be any need for a rainy day and that it would be better if they bet on a stable and successful Afghanistan instead of on non-state actors and spoilers. That there will never be an Afghanistan of the shape they desire.
As an Afghan I welcome the new strategy and commit myself to contribute to its success. After all it is in conformity with the vision of my late and slain leader Ahmad Shah Masood, who always advocated the strengthening of Afghanistan alongside political, economic and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan to find a good lasting solution for terrorism in our region and beyond. After billions of dollars spent, nearly two decades of thinking and studying, the world’s only superpower endorses his vision. I feel as if Masood rules from his grave.