Jihad to the finish in Afghanistan?

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The US will hereafter forego foreign adventurism and wars to “rebuild countries in our own image”. But in Afghanistan, American forces, US President Donald Trump announced, will fight on and finish the job of eliminating the terrorists. He would not make the mistake he said of his predecessor Obama of withdrawing the American military prematurely because that will lead to the al-Qaeda and ISIS filling the vacuum as happened in Iraq. Moreover, his strategy he stated will be dictated by “the conditions on the ground” not “arbitrary timetables”. This could mean interminable war except, Trump contrarily asserted, that “our commitment [to Afghanistan] is not unlimited, and our support is not a blank check.” The conclusion then is that  the US commitment to the Abdul Ghani regime in Kabul is indeed limited.

In the event, should the Taliban be prepared for rapid attrition of its leadership ranks with precision kills, and manage to wage a sustained drag out fight to wear down the US fighting capabilities, deplete the US Treasury of its wealth, and test Washington’s patience and increase its frustrations with “a war without victory”, they may still end up repeating the military victory they registered against the Soviet Union in the early 1980s, except this time it will be the other super power, the US, that will be hightailing it out of their country. Enough of an incentive for the Taliban and assorted Islamic terrorist groups that will now be attracted to its standard, one would assume, to engage in a jihad to the finish against America. Trump has indicated that because “Micromanagement from Washington, DC, does not win [faraway] battles”, the US military commanders will be given a free hand to devise battlefield strategies, hunt down and kill the Taliban, and to call in more forces if necessary to bring the fight to a conclusion. So Afghanistan may soon witness a dizzying pace of US military operations once the build-up is completed.

In the mean time, Pakistan will get it in the neck. As part of his multi-pillared strategy, Trump means “to change the approach and how to deal with Pakistan”. “We can no longer”, he declared, “be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond” while acknowledging Pakistan’s role in the past as “a valued partner”. He accused Pakistan of “housing the very terrorists that we are fighting”,  and warned that Pakistan “will have to change, and that will change immediately”. Trump also hinted at the possibility of Pakistani “nuclear weapons and materials…coming into the hands of terrorists and being used against us, or anywhere in the world for that matter.” And then came the implied threat: “No partnership”, Trump averred, ” can survive a country’s harboring of militants and targets who target US service members and officials. It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order, and to peace.” Or else.

Modi’s hugs apparently paid off. The US President referred to “another critical part of the South Asia strategy for America is to further develop its strategic partnership with India…a key security and economic partner”, appreciating its “important contributions to to stability in Afghanistan” especially in the economic and development fields, and reiterated his commitment to pursue “our shared objectives” in the subcontinent and “the broader Indo-Pacific region”. But amidst expressions of goodwill, Trump couldn’t resist holding out a veiled threat to Delhi. “India makes billions of dollars in trade” with the US, and “we want them,” he affirmed, “to help us more with Afghanistan” with regard to economic and development assistance. [I thought I heard him say “help us war with Afghanistan”!! and checked the print text to be reassured.]

All this is fine from the Indian point of view, of course. But, what happens to the Taliban factions  cultivated by RAW that have so far helped keep the Pakistan-supported Taliban of the Haqqani Network and ISI off balance? There’s also the likelihood, if the fighting gets difficult, for Washington to request a more direct Indian military role. The Modi government better begin strategizing and preparing for this eventuality and on how to say NO to Trump without getting him all worked up.