The United States of America’s (US) President Donald Trump finally spelt out his Afghanistan policy and to little surprise he has made a U-turn from his campaign promise to withdraw from the quagmire. His words have a mixed message for India.
The decision by President Trump to enhance the presence of US military in Afghanistan by sending in more troops on the ground settles one of the biggest questions facing not only the Afghanistan government but also the entire region and perhaps more broadly the entire world.
While the Al-Qaeda’s influence and reach has been severely curtailed in Afghanistan and indeed many other parts of the world, two other serious threats – the so-called Islamic State (IS) and the Taliban have not only retained their control but especially in case of Taliban it has achieved significant military gains throughout the country, even when faced with US or North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) soldiers.
A victory for the US in Afghanistan is extremely unlikely, since the country has spent nearly two decades trying to defeat the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. However, the continued presence of the US forces would play a big role in enhancing the capabilities and the morale of the Afghan defence forces and also give them more time to train and equip their personnel.
This would definitely make India happy as a stable Afghanistan has a direct impact on the situation in the troubled Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir where the situation has deteriorated sharply over the last three years, with several attacks on the Indian armed forces as well as civilians.
However, nothing what Trump said on Monday would have gladdened the Indian government’s heart as much as his attack on Pakistan for providing shelter and support to several terrorist organisations. This has been India’s bane and principle contention in seeking greater global pressure on Pakistan and for the new US President to speak out so sharply against Pakistan offering safe havens to terror groups must have sounded as sweet music to the Indian ears.
Also gratifying for India was to hear Trump ask India to enhance its role in Afghanistan, without referring even once to China in his speech.
Uncertainties of ‘Trumpolitics’
However, India needs to be cautious about the US President as he has been a flip-flop President if there was ever one. On most policies, he has either backtracked or worse changed course dramatically and it would be very worrying for India in case Trump decided to abandon his hard policy on Pakistan.
Moreover, India should also realise that despite all the recent shows of warmth and friendship, US (and most other global powers) would have their and only their strategic interests at heart when framing or altering policies. For India to start dreaming of finding a new, permanent ally whose policies fit perfectly to India’s vision of the globe would indeed be a folly.
An example of this was seen not too long ago during the COP 21 Climate Change summit in Paris in December 2015, where India, France, China and US took the lead and pushed through a high profile global agreement (though non-binding on signatory countries) to curtail greenhouse gas emissions significantly in order to check global warming.
At Paris, in order to let an agreement take place, India had made several sacrifices and concessions to the US and other nations and indeed moved dramatically from its earlier position on roles and responsibilities of various nations in curbing climate change. Yet within weeks after that India was fighting a losing battle against US on its policy of domestic content requirements in solar panels. This is just one of the several events that show that India needs to be extremely cautious before committing a lot of resources to the US-led actions in Afghanistan.
And, of course, India’s oldest strategic ally, Russia, has been distinctly unhappy to see India getting sucked into a US-orbit, almost ignoring the historic ties that the two countries have enjoyed. China, with whom India is already involved in a military face-off in the Doklam region, has gone a step ahead and increased its presence in Pakistan and other countries bordering India, in a bid to encircle India.