Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Trump's Afghan Plan

A Strategy, But Not Much of One

After months of deliberation, on August 20 U.S. President Donald Trump announced a new strategy for Afghanistan. Among other things, it called for an unenumerated troop increase, an open-ended commitment to station American forces in the country, greater leeway for U.S. commanders to make military choices, a warning to Pakistan to end its support to various terrorist organizations operating from its soil, and an exhortation to India to enlarge its presence in Afghanistan. 

The latter two elements of this new strategy have drawn much criticism from regional experts. Michael Kugelman and Peter Henne, for example, have argued that the United States lacks sufficient leverage to induce Pakistan to alter its policies toward the terrorist groups it supports. More to the point, they contend that putting pressure on Pakistan while engaging India is likely to backfire. Doing so would only reinforce Pakistan’s deep-seated fears of being encircled by India. In turn, Pakistan would grow closer to its long-standing ally, the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

It is hardly a revelation that Pakistan has long been playing a deft double game in Afghanistan. While drawing on substantial American military assistance, it has very selectively cracked down on terrorist organizations operating within its borders. Even as it has reined in those entities that directly threaten the interests of the Pakistani state, for example, it has consistently aided the Haqqani terrorist network in Afghanistan. Persistent American calls to end these ties have been all but ignored in Islamabad.

That isn’t particularly surprising: American demands to end support for various terrorist organizations have not been backed with any consequences. At best, the United States has belatedly chosen to withhold coalition support funds, money that it has provided Pakistan for its ostensible support in assisting military actions against the Taliban and other terrorist entities. But this has not led Pakistan to fundamentally alter its behavior. For its part, Pakistan has insisted that it has not only acted in good faith but is actually

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