The week started with Trump administration spelling out foreign policy objectives in a 56 page document carrying the caption of first foreign policy. The document impacts South Asia, the main focus being Afghanistan, though it generally frames the global approach. In the South Asian region, Pakistan continues to be implicated in Afghan situation. The series of do's and don'ts continues unabated. It follows the tone set in Trump's strident speech on South Asia in August, 2017. As is the case with the first foreign policy paper of December 2017, the emphasis remained on Afghanistan in August 2017. Following the adverse reaction in Pakistan, a series of meetings at various diplomatic levels tried to narrow the differences. It seems not much has been covered to put the relations on an even kneel and a smoother pitch.
Trump administration's so named–first foreign policy announced on Monday urges Pakistan to demonstrate that it's a "responsible steward" of its nuclear assets. There is expression of fear of a nuclear conflict, marking it as a key concern in Washington. However, the paper does not spell out any effort by Trump administration to take remedial measures to offset the dreaded eventuality of nuclear standoff in Indo-Pak context. The commitment of previous administrations is missing. While US administrations have always stopped short of hurting sensitivities, nevertheless they often played the intermediate role to put brakes on situations slipping out of hand in Indo-Pak subcontinent. It is no secret that Indo-Pak conflict has a tendency to get out of hand, given the divergent view on Kashmir dispute. Though Kashmir continues to be a live issue, Washington is guided by its own interests, much more intensely that ever before. Trump's America first focus is having a telling effect.
Washington think tanks for long believed that road to Afghanistan might lie through Kashmir. It implied that 'K' resolution might hold the key to settle Afghan imbroglio. The view no longer seems to impress Trump administration. The view is emerging, as made out by some analysts that an end to whatever troubles Afghanistan might no longer be the US focus. The ground facts do not spell an early end, hence US might be settling for a long haul. More or less 40 percent of Afghan land is Taliban controlled. The efforts by US supported Af-regime might not be enough to bring Af-Taliban on the negotiation table on favourable terms. Pakistan on its own admission does not seem to have the same hold on Af-Taliban as in the past. There is another angle to the tale. Any Pak push to pressurise Af-Taliban by using force might end up as Af-Taliban augmenting Pak-Taliban with adverse consequences for Pakistan. Analysts of Pak scene like former diplomat Munir Akram feel that Pakistan might be in no position to deliver what US wants it to. Translated it means pressurising Af-Taliban might recoil on it adversely. It is doubtful that constant US push asking Pakistan to act against Af-Taliban and Haqani group has buyers in security establishment.
The situation thus continues wherein US asks Pakistan to do more with Pakistan repeating the standard answer of having done enough, and suffered losses much more than any other state in anti-terror campaign. Pak contention does not impress Trump administration. Unveiling his new strategy, Trump in his speech in Ronald Reagan building in Washington emphasized, "We have made clear to Pakistan that while we desire continued partnership, we must see decisive action against terrorist groups operating on their territory. And we make massive payments every year to Pakistan. They have to help." Pakistan's reply since Trump's tirade against it in August 2017 has been that they could do without US funding, and more than the payment they want trust. It is indeed the trust that is missing in US-Pak ties, and what keeps the contentious relationship going is the corridor that Pakistan provides for NATO movement to landlocked Afghanistan. And, the fact that state of affairs in Pakistan implicates Afghanistan much more than any other factor. Pakistan cannot be ruled out of Afghan equation.
US strategy to provide an edge to India in South Asia extends to providing a greater field in Afghanistan and Central Asia. In the latest policy document greater Indian role is clearly spelt out. It serves the purpose of keeping Pakistan on tenterhooks, and more important India is fast emerging as a US partner in a wide range of strategic corridors. These corridors extend from Asia-Pacific to Indian Ocean. In the Indian Ocean, China is flexing its muscles by securing a chain of strategic bases in Gwadar (Pakistan) Habantota (Sri Lanka) and Djibouti. From its South China sea bases to building a naval base in Myanmar and onwards to Indian Ocean naval bases, the Chinese naval presence poses a challenge to US globally and India regionally. US global power stems from large naval presence. Indian Ocean forms a vital global link between its Pacific and Atlantic fleets. US and Indian interests coincide, hence the growing strategic partnership. Russia is reflected in first foreign policy document, obviously because of making its presence felt in recent years in Middle East, besides its strategic backyard in Central Asia in collaboration with China. Some strategic experts believe that US intention to stay put in Afghanistan might have more to do with watching Russia and China than a desire to seen an end to Afghan imbroglio.
There seems to be much more to global and South Asian situation than meets the eye.
Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]