US President Donald Trump delivered a speech on Monday, 21 August (Washington time) in which he addressed the United States’ ‘path forward in Afghanistan and South Asia’. Trump, who has previously been plain-spoken in his determination to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, was at pains to explain that he had changed his mind about that stance – a notable expression in itself – and why he now felt it necessary to retain troops there. Despite the war in Afghanistan having gone on for sixteen years, the longest in US history, the loss of thousands of personnel and the general war-weariness of the American populace, it now appears that the President will increase troop numbers there. He also appears to take a broader view of the situation in Afghanistan, which could increase pressure on Pakistan and bring India into the peacekeeping equation.
Trump also made it clear that he expects the Afghan Government to undertake its share of any efforts the US may put into stabilising the country and returning peace to the land, saying:
Military power alone will not bring peace to Afghanistan or stop the terrorist threat arising in that country. But strategically applied force aims to create the conditions for a political process to achieve a lasting peace. America will work with the Afghan government as long as we see determination and progress. However, our commitment is not unlimited, and our support is not a blank check [sic]. The government of Afghanistan must carry their share of the military, political and economic burden. The American people expect to see real reforms, real progress, and real results. Our patience is not unlimited.
Pakistan, which has received an estimated US$33 billion in funding from the US since 2001, will probably witness a stricter American regimen and be asked to account for its tendency to harbour US-nominated terrorist groups. India, which would welcome Trump’s assertion that it needs to be more involved in Afghanistan, would definitely be uneasy with his follow-up that it would need to take on a security role in Afghanistan since it ‘makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States and we want them to help us out in Afghanistan’. Trump, it appears, is attempting to engage the region to find a solution to the Afghan problem.
Soon-to-follow FDI analyses will examine these and other related issues in more depth.