United States’ Policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan: The New Great Game?

United States’ Policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan: The New Great Game?
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Foreign, defense and security policies of nations are actually conceived, formulated and drafted by experts. The heads of nations or states then accord the weight and credibility of their office to a particular foreign and security policy enunciated by experts. Given this, the consensus that appears to have emerged in the United States toward Afghanistan and Pakistan and to which Donald Trump has lent his voice and the weight of his office is not to exit from Afghanistan, play hard ball with Pakistan and adopt a hard power approach. Trump has also disavowed “nation building” and threatened Pakistan with withholding monies to it. On the face of it, this seems like a policy review but probing deeper , what emerges from the “new” policy is that it is , in some senses, more of the same- except for putting a spotlight on Pakistan and suggesting an expansive and expanded role for India in Afghanistan.
The United States has been engaging in Counter Terrorism(CT) in Afghanistan for a while now with no obvious success(es). The Taliban , appears to have gained ground and scored significant successes there and the government propped up and supported by the United States is a rump one wiht its remit not entirely and really running beyond Kabul. A commitment to send in a few thousand troops to Afghanistan will not drastically change these equations, to say the least. What, however, is significant is the putative squeeze(financial) on Pakistan and feelers to India for an expanded role in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is a swing state in the region and it has, historically deployed significant attention and assets in Afghanistan. Central to Pakistan’s attention in Afghanistan has been attaining “ strategic depth” vis a vis India. The Taliban has been pivotal towards in this schema. Now , with Trump’s admonition and threats, will Pakistan retreat from Afghanistan and dance to the tune of the Americans? Unlikely is the answer. Given the drift , tone and tenor in Pakistan -United States relations(of a transactional nature) over the past years, it would appear that, Pakistan may have anticipated the change in the stance of the United States and , in lieu of this, appears to have drifted more intensely to China’s orbit. CPEC , a component of the One Belt, One Road(OBOR) initiative and enthusiasm for it in Pakistan may constitute one example of this.
Overlaying the more intense proximity between Pakistan and China is the increasing rivalry between India and China- best exemplified by the Doklam stand- off. The region then appears to be in great geopolitical flux. This, in turn, is complemented by the overall fluidity and churn in international politics and relations wherein the departure of Steve Bannon from the White House and his focus on China as the threat to the United States , among other things, suggest that a China-United States confrontation is perhaps inevitable , at some point in time.
These developments, will axiomatically, affect the nature and tenor of international and regional politics. The United States proximity with India might expand into a formal alliance and Pakistan China relationship can only deepen. Given all this, there is a possibility of a new Cold War with China and the United States as its chief protagonists. Regionally, the implications would be felt in Afghanistan and even Kashmir. Globally, the West will find a new bond to cohere around and the world will be divided into blocs.
In the meantime, within Afghanistan , Pakistan might give the United States a run for its money, so to speak and America will find itself embroiled in a rather open ended war- something it has sought to avoid and extricate itself from. The region, including Kashmir will be a hot bed for conspiracies and intrigues which would be reminiscent of the “Great Game” of yore. The new realignments accruing from these developments will , to repeat, have a global and regional impact. A new “ Great Power Politics’ will ensue where some countries will be allies of Great Powers( China and the United States) , while others will be clients. In this fluid milieu, world order will be shaken up and could , in all likelihood revert to a more defined bipolar order. If indeed , the world becomes bipolar, it will, in terms of direct confrontation like war be a more stable world. But Conflicts on the periphery might intensify and proxy could be more prevalent.
Admittedly, the foregoing analysis is , to an extent, speculative but as the drift events in international politics and the direction of the foreign policy calculus of the United States suggests, it could very well fall in the realm of possibility. The policy direction of the Trump administration, of which its Afghan and Pakistan policy is a significant component suggests that the United States, by its omissions and commissions, is managing its own decline. This might not entirely be bad but the prices that others will pay during the period of re-alignment might be too high. The repercussions and prices, if the scenarios delineated here, might even be felt in Kashmir. The place will become a den of conspiracies and intrigues. Alas!

—The author can be reached at: wajahatqazi1234@gmail.com. He tweets at: @Wajahatqazi

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