When it comes to creating a free and democratic Afghanistan, the challenges have been immense. The Taliban has intimidated tribes and villages through force, creating a culture of fear. In addition, the infrastructure of the country makes it difficult for a central government to govern effectively and address the needs of all their people.
Throughout the recent war in Afghanistan, with the American troops fighting the Taliban and other militias, including ISIS, the reality seems to be one step forward and two steps back. President Obama made a promise to reduce the troops in Afghanistan as part of a transition that put the Afghanistan government in charge. However, the Taliban, with support from Iranian-funded militias, has begun to retake sections of the country. The risk of civil war is increasing and the progress made to date is in jeopardy.
For the current American administration, the safety and security of the American people has been repeatedly touted as its primary focus. The current situation in Afghanistan leaves open a potential haven for ISIS and other terrorist organizations, who could be seen as mounting attacks against the United States.
A recent op-ed piece by Vice President Mike Pence noted that President Trump has a new strategy to address these potential threats from not only Afghanistan, but South Asia as well.
“The President has authorized our armed forces to directly target the terrorists and militant networks that sow violence and chaos throughout Afghanistan, who put our soldiers at risk and destabilize the region. He has lifted the restrictions that prevented our commanders in the field from fully using their judgment and expertise to carry out their critical missions. Bureaucrats don’t win battles, our brave men and women in uniform do, and they deserve the flexibility they need to fight and win every time,” said Pence.
He also noted that President Trump will let conditions determine and guide the U.S. strategy. Pence also pointed to what he saw as a failing of the previous administration, in that they announced troop withdrawals and timelines publicly, thus alerting enemies of when they would be in a position to regain ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Another part of this strategy includes a closer relationship with India, the world’s largest democracy and a key economic partner in the region, and partnering with Pakistan to address terrorism, particularly as it bleeds over into Afghanistan.
“Pakistan too often turns a blind eye to the cancer of terrorism, and in many cases, Pakistan has contributed to the growth of terrorist groups,” said Pence.
It seems as if Trump’s strategy may have been tougher than what the government of Pakistan was expecting. President Trump publicly berated the country for what he sees as a lack of action in dealing with the terrorist groups within its borders. Privately, members of Pakistan’s armed forces have admitted that the country is harboring members of the Taliban, although they also have indicated they are making efforts to get rid of the group.
It appears that President Trump might be willing to consider sanctions against the country if progress on this issue is not seen, and seen quickly. But on top of all that, President Trump noted that he would ask India to contribute more to stabilizing Afghanistan. Since Pakistan and India have a rocky relationship, this is likely to only create a potential rift with Pakistan’s government.
Yet this new strategy didn’t focus on Russia or Iran, both countries that are providing support for the Taliban. Pakistan isn’t the only country friendly to this group, thus making it seem likely that a larger strategy will have to address this issue. Still, at the moment, the U.S. seems ready to ignore the security concerns of Pakistan with regards to India. Instead, their focus is more on the issues of Pakistan’s support of the Taliban and other terrorist organizations, which has been a source of concern to NATO as well.