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Reconstructing Afghanistan

Trump administration’s new statement on assuaging the Afghan crisis calls for increased support from India.

Reconstructing Afghanistan

The US war on Afghanistan began in October 2001, the month after the September 11 terrorist attacks on American soil. The war, the longest in American history, targeted al-Qaida that carried out the terror attacks and the Taliban administration that supported the extremist organisation. After US troops toppled the Taliban administration to replace it with a pro-American government, security in Afghanistan continued to deteriorate. The US has found itself in a quagmire in the country—where the British and the Soviet Union had earlier burnt their fingers.

Trump appeared to have drawn a lesson and rightly so from the George W Bush administration's decision, implemented by his successor Barack Obama, to withdraw forces from Iraq which resulted in a return of sectarianism. The post-US security vacuum was filled in part by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syrian terrorists. ISIS is operating in Afghanistan too, as are remnants of al-Qaida and a strongly resurgent Taliban, all of which would see their foothold accelerate should the US withdraw its forces.
Trump criticised the Barack Obama administration for creating a "vacuum" to be filled by the Islamic State and other militant groups by "hastily and mistakenly" withdrawing US troops from Iraq. The resurgence of Taliban in Afghanistan and reports of al-Qaida remnants and ISIS gaining ground in the war-torn country seems to have forced Trump, the third US President to be dealing with the Afghanistan problem, to recast his policy. Trump, who during his election campaign had promised to pull out of Afghanistan, announced to send more troops to the country saying he was convinced that withdrawing troops posed more risk. "A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists including ISIS and al-Qaida would instantly fill," he said.
Besides bolstering the existing US force, his plan also grants autonomy to the military to make decisions by lifting restrictions that prevented US commanders in the field from fully using their judgment and expertise to carry out their critical missions. While giving no time limit for American engagement in Afghanistan like his predecessor Barak Obama, Trump said the focus of US should be on fighting terrorists and not on rebuilding Afghanistan. It is understandable that Trump does not want to tie to a timeline and his decision against specifying the number of more US troops to be deployed is in line with the military strategy. However, it is widely reported that around 4,000 additional troops might be sent to Afghanistan. Nearly 8,400 US troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan, most assigned to about a 13,000-strong international force that is training and advising the Afghan military. About 2000 American troops are engaged in counter-terrorism operations along with Afghan forces against groups of the remnants of al-Qaeda and Islamic State's Afghan affiliate—the Islamic State.
The 16-year-old war in Afghanistan has already claimed the lives of 2,400 US service members. President Trump's fresh strategy could be seen as a desperate measure to save his country's face. The problem is that there is no outlook for a stabilised Afghanistan on the horizon which is evident from his pledge that US troops "will fight to win" in the lengthy conflict. He also said the US will ask for additional troops and funds from NATO members and allies. NATO nations, however, have already paid a high price in Afghanistan, with numerous casualties resulting from their troops' pivotal role in the now-defunct International Security Assistance Force. Although Trump has sent out a stern warning to Pakistan against providing a safe haven to terrorists, one wonders if the US has the political will to take action against Islamabad if it failed to heed to the demand. "We can no longer be silent about Pakistan's safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond," Trump said in a hard-hitting message to Pakistan, which probably no other US President had conveyed so strongly.
While Islamabad criticised Trump's assertion saying that scapegoating Pakistan will not help in stabilising Afghanistan, India welcomed his "determination to enhance efforts to overcome the challenges faced by Afghanistan and in confronting issues of safe havens and other forms of cross-border support enjoyed by terrorists." Without naming Pakistan, the ministry of external affairs said: "India shares these concerns and objectives." While seeking New Delhi's enhanced role, Trump said: "We appreciate India's important contribution to stability in Afghanistan, but India makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development."
As far as India's role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan is concerned its partnership has grown into multi-activities across all parts of Afghanistan. Since 2001 India has been the fifth largest aid provider to Afghanistan. Some 16,000 Afghan students are studying in India, which has also provided training to 4000 Afghan army officers.
India's reconstruction and developmental programmes in Afghanistan follow the priorities of the Afghan Government and people. These encompass education, medical services, transport, telecommunications, civil aviation, agriculture, irrigation, power generation, industry, and rural development. India is building Afghanistan's structures from public toilets to transmission lines. One of India's important infrastructure projects in South-West Afghanistan is the highway from Zaranj to Delaram.
India has already invested US$10.8 billion in Afghanistan as of 2012. India helped Afghans in the reconstruction of Salma Dam in the Herat province. Besides producing 42 MW power, this Indo-Afghan friendship dam provides irrigation to 75,000 hectares of farmland in the Chisti Sharif district. India and Iran are set to ink a transit agreement on transporting goods to landlocked Afghanistan. The Indian government is investing more than US$100 million in the expansion of the Chabahar port in South-Eastern Iran that will serve as a hub for the transportation of transit goods. As a goodwill gesture, India has also constructed a new Parliament complex for the Afghan government at a cost of Rs 710 crores (USD 115 million). This building was inaugurated on December 25, 2015.
(The author is former Editor, PTI. He has also served as West Asia Correspondent for PTI, based in Bahrain from 1988 to 1995. The views expressed are strictly personal.)

M Shakeel Ahmed

M Shakeel Ahmed

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