What’s New In The New South Asia Strategy ?

New South Asia

On 23rd August, 2017, US President Donald Trump unveiled his administration’s much anticipated South Asia Strategy to the world. Also called the ‘New’ Afghanistan policy, it represents a great degree of continuity than perhaps what Trump is willing to acknowledge. The most remarkable feature of the document is the first ever overt reference to Pakistan as the being a safe haven for terrorists. As far as India is concerned, the document envisages a greater role for India in the economic revival of Afghanistan, as Trump called upon India to increase its financial aid for the reconstruction of war torn country. While India has welcomed the new policy, it has been wary of Trump’s transactional approach to foreign policy. This article outlays the salient features of the policy and their implications on India’s national interests.

No Rapid Exit from Afghanistan

The most significant aspect of the document is the change in position of Trump with regard to Afghanistan. Trump during his campaign had vociferously criticized US’s involvement in Afghanistan citing reasons that US has enough domestic problems to worry rather than engaging in an ultra expensive war in Afghanistan. However through this document he has indicated that the U.S. forces will stay in the country as long as necessary. The new strategy also seeks to increase the troop size in the country in order to reverse the gains made by the Taliban in the last one year or so. Once the Afghan government regains the upper hand, the U.S. will seek a political settlement. The rationale behind this change in policy is the priority that Trump has accorded to national security. Trump said that the consequences of a rapid exit from Afghanistan are both “predictable and unacceptable.” Deserting at this time would leave a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill (like they did in Iraq).The situation would then be back to that which existed at the time of 9/11, which was planned and directed from Afghanistan because it was then ruled by a government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists.

No governance, only war

Trump also said that America would only send its troops only to kill terrorists and not for any other noble ends like promotion of democracy etc. This presents a stark departure from the past, as it is for the first time that a US President has so openly and blatantly acknowledged its ‘real purpose’ for military intervention in another country. Earlier, it was always in the veil of ‘promoting democracy or humanitarian reasons’ that US carried out military intervention. This implies that ultimately, it will be up to the people of Afghanistan to take ownership of their future, to govern their society, and to achieve an everlasting peace.America will not dictate to the Afghan people how to live, or how to govern their own complex society. America would not be involved in nation-building or create democracies in faraway lands in America’s own image.

A warning to Pakistan

Trump said that America would no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations as he chose to warn Pakistan that Billions of dollars in aid that US currently gives Pakistan could be cut if it doesn’t demonstrate commitment towards civilization, order, and to peace. In this regard it is interesting to note that 20 U.S. – designated foreign terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan – the highest concentration in any region anywhere in the world. He also expressed concerns over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal which might fall into the hands of Islamist terrorists.

Take away for India

The policy recognises India as US’s major strategic partner in South Asia especially in the areas of defense and security. It called upon India to play an enhanced role in maintaining peace and stability in the region. A major take away for India has been the open recognition of Pakistan as a terror sponsoring state. It has become explicit that gone are the days when Pakistan could shield behind US which regarded it as a crucial partner in it’s war against terror. The growing realization in America post killing of Osama bin laden in Pakistan, has now reached to its logical conclusion as US has openly come to regard Pakistan as a country using terrorism as a tool of foreign policy against India. Also, India can feel relieved of the fact that Trump did not ask India to engage militarily in Afghanistan respecting India’s stand of not putting in boots in a foreign country post it’s 1987 experience in Sri Lanka.

Challenges ahead

South Asia is a strategically important region for the US as well as the world. It is home to one fifth of the world population and two countries in the region namely India and Pakistan are nuclear-enabled. The threat of an escalation looms large especially with growing apprehensions about the safely of nuclear weapons in Pakistan. At the same time Afghanistan is of immense geopolitical significance due to its peculiar location. It acts as a buffer state between South Asia and Central Asia as well as a gateway into Islamic lands. With the world witnessing the phenomenon of ISIS in Iraq after the void created by the withdrawal of US troops, it becomes enormously important for India and all the major powers of the world to ensure peace and stability in that country. As a follow up of the policy US should also seek greater support and participation from international community especially from nations like Britain, France, and European Union for development of the region.

– Contributed by  Suryansh

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