<b>Diplomatic Enclave:</b> Tactical changes
Washington is willing to act tough, which has its implications for all regional powers
From America First, US President Donald Trump has made a sudden jump to decisive action; missile strikes at a Syrian airbase, launching America’s largest non-nuclear bomb at an Islamic State stronghold in eastern Afghanistan and deploying a military strike force towards North Korean waters. All within ten days. From talking tough to China and the bonhomie with Moscow in the early days, Washington has moved to making overtures to Beijing and giving Moscow the cold treatment. From viewing NATO as a financial drag on the US, Trump has turned to hailing its role in international security. With these peremptory shifts, what does one make of Trump’s foreign policies, except that the US President is given to sudden tactical changes?
A closer look at the recent events shows that US policy has reverted to its earlier positions. His policy shifts have been welcomed by different sections in the US as a move away from his campaign rhetoric to getting closer to the Republican stance on many of these issues. The ‘mother of all bombs’ used to destroy a deep network of tunnels used by IS, clearly indicates that the US is not giving up on Afghanistan. It also shows Washington as willing to act tough, which has its implications for all the regional powers, including Pakistan, which felt the blast of the detonation in its bordering region. It also shows a willingness to work with Beijing to contain North Korea’s aggression. But how effective is a show of military prowess in sending a message to North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un? Some observers believe that threats of force do not deter North Korea, which banks on brinkmanship, for Pyongyang went ahead with its failed missile test. The reports that the naval strike force is not anywhere near North Korean waters but is still on a training mission in Australia has further dimmed the credibility of the American threat.

The American super-bomb attack took place just a day before Russia was to hold its third round of talks on Afghanistan in Moscow. Russia had been expanding the scope of these talks from its first trilateral Russia-China-Pakistan talks in December 2016, which faced flak for not including Afghanistan. The second round was a six-nation dialogue, adding Afghanistan, India and Iran to the original three members. The third round was a wider 11-nation regional talks at the official level in Moscow last week. The US was invited to the talks, but chose to stay away because Washington perceives the talks as an attempt by Moscow to increase its influence and enhance its role in the region.
The massive bomb attack was targeted at the Islamic State, but Washington had not paid much attention till then to Moscow’s warnings of increasing IS presence in Afghanistan. Russia is keen to facilitate talks with the Taliban but the Afghan position at the regional talks was that the Afghan government was willing to talk within Afghanistan to responsible Taliban members. The Afghan government is wary of Moscow’s contacts with the Taliban.
Despite resorting to fire-power against the IS, Trump is still to evolve his strategy for Afghanistan. But he sent US National Security Advisor, General HR McMaster to the region to make a first-hand assessment on the situation in Afghanistan. US military commanders have asked for several thousand additional troops in Afghanistan to help break the stalemate in the battle with the Taliban. There are about 8400 US troops in Afghanistan at present. In Kabul, McMaster said the Trump administration was weighing diplomatic, military and economic responses to the Taliban.

During his day-long visit to Islamabad, Gen McMaster met Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army chief, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. He is said to have emphasised “the need to confront terrorism in all its forms” and reviewed efforts aimed at stablising the situation in Afghanistan. In Kabul, however, Gen McMaster had been more forthright in a television interview, when he hoped Pakistani leaders would understand that it was in their interest to go after (terrorist) groups “less selectively” and the best way to pursue their interest in Afghanistan and elsewhere was through diplomacy and “not through the use of proxies that engage in violence.” But, despite the strong words, the US administration has decided to increase defence and civilian aid to Pakistan in 2017.
Afghanistan has accused Pakistan of providing safe havens to the Taliban while Pakistan has, in turn charged Afghanistan of allowing Pakistani Taliban groups to operate from Afghan territory. Pakistan had closed down the border with Afghanistan at Torkham for four weeks earlier this year after a terrorist attack at a shrine in Sindh.
The American NSA completed his South Asian tour by travelling from Islamabad to New Delhi, where he shared his perspective of the security situation in Asia, including in Afghanistan, West Asia and North Korea.
Shubha Singh