Donald Trump's lack of understanding of the tension between India and Pakistan

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Donald Trump's lack of understanding of the tension between India and Pakistan risks destabilising the region

Trump's speech, which asked India to ‘help more’ with Afghanistan, amounted to calling for calm while also setting the house on fire

Abhishek Parajuli writing in The Independent

If Donald Trump had read this anecdote from a book by a former British Army Officer, the Afghan strategy he laid out on Monday might have been different.

In 2011, an American general in Helmand –a province in southern Afghanistan – brought together a group of village elders to win them over to the coalition cause. After the elders voiced their concerns, it was time for him to respond. He stood up and said: “Over the last thirty years, Afghanistan has been plagued by terrorists and Mujahedin... I am here to clear them from the country.”

At this point the mood in the room changed and a frenzied chatter broke out. Why?

Many of the village elders, the very people the general was so keen to win over, were the ex-Mujahedin. A similar ignorance of local dynamics was on display again in Trump’s speech.

There were at least two clear changes in the new Trump strategy for Afghanistan. First, Trump put all tact aside and rebuked Pakistan in the most stinging terms, saying the US would no longer allow it to provide a “safe havens for terrorists.” The second change was a surprising call for India to do more in Afghanistan. On this he said, “...we want [India] to help us more with Afghanistan.”

President Trump may not have realised this, but these two policies directly contradict each other. In fact, applying both policies in the same strategy shows a dangerous lack of awareness of why Pakistan has been playing both sides by supporting Nato while simultaneously harbouring militant groups, including the Taliban’s powerful Haqqani network.

A key reason Pakistan harbours Afghan terrorists is to protect itself from India. The two nuclear-powered neighbours have been in three major wars since independence and their relationship is perpetually charged. Some see instability in Afghanistan as creating an essential space to retreat and regroup if the more powerful Indian Army attacks.

Pakistan is also wary of Indian influence in Afghanistan –military or otherwise – because it could leave them exposed on two borders. So, asking India to increase its involvement in Afghanistan was about the best way of making sure Pakistan continues its policy of abetting terrorists. It amounts to calling for calm while also setting the house on fire.


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