Afghanistan has suffered through a harrowing summer, even by the nightmarish standards of a country convulsed by conflict for decades.
On May 31, a truck bomb exploded in Kabul’s heavily fortified diplomatic enclave, killing more than 150 people. On June 2, Afghans, furious about their government’s failure to provide security, took to the streets of Kabul. Security forces cracked down, killing at least five people. One of them was the son of the deputy leader of Afghanistan’s Senate. His funeral the next day, attended by top Afghan political leaders, was rocked by three explosions that killed at least twenty people.
In 2068, some 50 years from now, will American soldiers still be dying in Afghanistan?
“The problem is,” argues Leon Panetta, the former Defense Secretary and CIA Director under President Obama, “you cannot allow Afghanistan to fail and become a safe haven for al-Qaida and for terrorism more broadly to attack our country.”
The New York Times reported July 10 on meetings between President Trump, his top advisers and private military and security company (PMSC) magnates, Erik Prince (founder of Blackwater) and Stephen A. Feinberg (owner of DynCorp International) to discuss plans for having contractors take over U.S. operations in Afghanistan. The plans are said to hew closely to the Wall Street Journal op-ed Erik Prince published in June proposing a “MacArthur solution” to Afghanistan. Like the historical analogy it borrows from, the plan proposes a U.S. viceroy, but unlike MacArthur, the viceroy would carry out his plans with the help of a private army.
Afghanistan is in the process of limiting Pakistan’s veto options on transportation of goods and looking at other routes being a landlocked country.
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani visited Turkmenistan on July 3 upon invitation by President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. Oguzkhan Palace complex in Turkmenistan hosted the high-level talks.
With the Trump administration considering how to break the stalemate between Taliban-allied groups and the government of Afghanistan, terrorists detonated a car bomb in Kabul on May 31, killing more than 150. Afghan intelligence blamed the violence on Haqqani, a terror network with close ties to the Taliban, al Qaeda and Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence. The attack demonstrates that Washington needs to focus on the threat from Haqqani, which has also consolidated militant factions across strategic regions of the war zone.
“None of us would say that we are on a course to success here in Afghanistan,” said Senator John McCain, speaking for a five-member bipartisan Senate delegation at a Kabul press briefing on July 4. The senators didn’t have to skip the July 4 parades to discover that. The United States continues its longest war–now in its 16th year–without a clue about how to win or how to get out. President Trump shows no sign of changing course: At the end of this month, he is slated to sign off on sending a few thousand more troops to Afghanistan.
On June 16, the New York Times published and op-ed titled “For Peace in Afghanistan, Talk to Pakistan.” The authors are right that Pakistan’s behavior must change if Afghanistan is to attain stability, but they’re naive in thinking that what they propose will produce such change.
The window during which President Donald Trump can extricate U.S. forces from the mess in Afghanistan and blame his predecessors for the calamity is rapidly closing. A few more weeks, another surge, and he will be the third president to be saddled with this war; it will become his. The move to allow the military to determine how many more troops to send to Afghanistan would have been a wise one—let the professionals make such tactical decisions—if it reflected the president’s decision to stay the course. Such a decision would follow a review of the war involving not just the Pentagon, but also the intelligence community, the State Department and the staff of the National Security Council, among others. However, that is not the way this president makes decisions. He just left it to the Pentagon to sort out.
The demand for trilateral cooperation among China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan has increased more than ever in Afghanistan and China. In Pakistan, the demand for such trilateral cooperation looks good on paper, but in practice the state policy of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan hinders such cooperation. If a paradigm shift in Islamabad’s Afghan policy occurs, there will be a great future for trilateral cooperation, which can be a key to regional stability; otherwise the trilateral fate seems bleak.