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Donald Trump to outline US strategy for Afghanistan, Pakistan

LiveMint logoLiveMint 21-08-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: All eyes are on US President Donald Trump as he prepares to outline his new South Asia policy that is expected to spell out his administration’s strategy towards Pakistan and war-torn Afghanistan.

This is the first review of the Afghan war strategy by the Trump administration that took office in January. Trump will “provide an update on the path forward for America’s engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia” in an address delivered from a military base at Fort Myer, near Washington, on Monday, the White House said in a statement.

The new policy could see more US troops deployed in Afghanistan besides increasing pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting groups like the Haqqani network and the Taliban—a move that could push Islamabad further into the orbit of China, creating new fault lines in the region. Some news reports said the US could define a role for India too in stabilising Afghanistan.

Trump met his top security officials at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland on Friday in a bid to weigh his options, and said later in a Twitter post that “many decisions” had been made—without elaborating.

The US president was to spell out his plans for Afghanistan in mid-July but the process was delayed with news reports saying this was because the president was dissatisfied with the options presented to him to gain the upper hand in the 16-year-old war. The review comes after US defence secretary James Mattis told a Congressional hearing in June that the US was “not winning” the war against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. It was a US-led coalition that ousted the Taliban from power in Kabul in November 2001, five years after the hardline group took control of the country.

An assessment by the US military says the Afghan government currently controls about 60% of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, according to a Reuters report. A New York Times report said Trump could increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan by several thousands to support an estimated 8,400 US troops who are there. Most of them are assigned to an approximately 13,000-strong international force that is training and advising the Afghan military, news reports say. About 2,000 US troops are tasked with carrying out counterterrorism missions along with Afghan forces.

Any increase in US troops in Afghanistan could come with strings attached, such as the need for Kabul to cut down on corruption. Trump is also expected to deal strongly with Pakistan — seen as providing sanctuary to terrorist groups. The measures could include cutting off military aid to Pakistan. Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper said Islamabad was bracing itself for hard times and considering options to offset any adverse fallout. “In the event of any extreme US measures, Pakistan would be left with ‘no option but to seek even deeper and enhanced cooperation’ with China and Russia,” the report said, quoting an unnamed official. All weather friends China and Pakistan have seen cooperation touch an all-time high with Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative.

Pakistan’s ties with Russia too have evolved in the past two-three years.

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