Trump's Afghan Plan Poised to Fail, Pakistan Premier Says
(Bloomberg) -- U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategy for the nation’s longest-running war in Afghanistan will meet the same fate as the plans of his predecessors, according to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. Failure.
“From day one we have been saying very clearly the military strategy in Afghanistan has not worked and it will not work,” Abbasi, who took over as premier three weeks ago, said in an interview Saturday night in Karachi. There has to be a “political settlement,” he added, and it needs to be inclusive. “That’s the bottom-line.”
Abbasi said while his government supports the fight against terrorists it won’t let the war in Afghanistan, with which it shares a 2,500-kilometer (1,550-mile) border, spill into Pakistan.
The stance of Abassi’s administration may complicate Trump’s plan for the region after he pledged more U.S. troops for Afghanistan and called on Pakistan to stop providing a safe haven for terrorists.
Failure by Trump to resolve the Afghan war risks even greater financial and human cost for the U.S., could leave it bogged down further in the conflict, and may become a further sore point for ties with China and Pakistan, with Trump already chiding Beijing for not doing enough to stop the turmoil. The war has cost the U.S. about $714 billion and several thousand lives.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday said the new strategy is intended to pressure the Taliban into negotiating with the Afghan government by “sending a message to the Taliban that we are not going anywhere.”
“I think the president’s been clear that this is a dramatic shift in terms of the military strategy,” Tillerson said on the “Fox News Sunday” program. “The president was clear that he’s not setting any arbitrary timelines,” he said. “Our patience is not unlimited.”
Afghanistan’s government is slowly losing its grip with the Taliban now controlling about 40 percent of the country, which U.S. officials say couldn’t be possible without help from Pakistan’s military. That’s a charge the Asian nation disputes.
“This is a classic dialogue of the deaf between Washington and Islamabad because neither agrees on what needs to be pursued but both make a sham of going together,” said Burzine Waghmar, a member of the Centre for the Study of Pakistan at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. “U.S. priorities are not the same as Pakistan,” which wants Afghanistan to stay dependent on it, he said.
The U.S. in previous offensives in Afghanistan used drones to attack alleged terrorists in Pakistan. NATO troops have also used Pakistani ports and roads to move equipment into land-locked Afghanistan.
“We do not intend to allow anybody to fight Afghanistan’s battle on Pakistan’s soil,” Abbasi said during the interview at the former home of the nation’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, while he was on a visit to the nation’s commercial capital. “Whatever has to happen in Afghanistan should be happening in Afghanistan,” he said, adding Pakistan doesn’t harbor terrorists.
Abbasi was picked by the ruling party as prime minister this month after the nation’s top court disqualified predecessor Nawaz Sharif in July after a corruption probe.
Support from China will help Pakistan defy the U.S. In a statement late Sunday, Abbasi postponed the visit of a U.S. delegation. Last week, Pakistan’s military said it isn’t looking for U.S. financial assistance and Shehbaz Sharif, Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother and chief minister of Punjab province, called for the end of American aid.
China, which is seeking to build its economic and strategic clout in South Asia, has more than $50 billion in planned infrastructure projects in Pakistan. With China’s role increasing, Pakistan’s forces have fewer incentives to stop covertly supporting insurgent groups that strike inside Afghanistan and India, while targeting outfits that threaten its own domestic security, according to analysts.
Pakistan’s military has been conducting its own offensive against terrorists with the latest operation in the Khyber tribal region starting last month after Islamic State’s presence increased across the border in Afghanistan. The Pakistani army earlier said it had cleared North Waziristan on the Afghanistan border, a region the U.S. has called an “epicenter” of terrorism.
More than 60,000 people have been killed while Pakistan’s economy has suffered a loss of about $120 billion from waging war at home against terrorists, according to the finance ministry. The nation is one of the largest hosts to refugees globally after Afghans fled across the border during decades of war.
Pakistan has started returning refugees and plans to fence its border with Afghanistan to prevent the cross-border movement of militants.
Abbasi said Pakistan is willing to work with all countries including India, from which Trump sought help to develop Afghanistan’s economy, to achieve regional stability. Still, he added the Afghan government should be “owning” the issue and dealing with the Taliban.
“If they require our support, our support is available,” he said. “Our support is unconditional as far as terrorism is concerned.”