US Vice President Mike Pence on Friday evening refreshed Donald Trump’s commitment to pull American troops out of Afghanistan in an interview with Republican mouthpiece Fox News. Taken on face value, his statement issues a message of peace to an international audience. But neither that medium nor that personality is identified with peacemaking efforts or processes.
Pence’s statement came on the heels of alert Chinese President Xi Jingping issued to People’s Liberation Army, one of the world’s mightiest armies. Heading an unusual meeting of the Central Military Commission, Xi delivered his first command to Chinese army in 2019, citing unprecedented risks his country he believes is facing. Before this high level meeting, Xi, not known for making public statements on international or internal conflicts, made a speech warning Taiwan that she “must and will be” reunited with mainland China. US Vice President Pence’s statement need to be placed against the backcloth of what is going on in China to draw a picture on global canvas since we are dealing with global players here.
Consider. The US is pulling its forces out of many fronts. It has started evacuating its troops from Syria. Similarly, after almost 18 years since 9/11 in 2001, it has dawned on Pence that war in Afghanistan is ‘never ending’. President Obama tried his best to pull out US troops from Afghanistan by 2014 so that only a small number of them were left behind to perform an “advisory” role. But Republicans were against the pull-out proposal at that time and their opposition emboldened the then Afghan President Hamid Karzai to openly criticize Obama. The same John Bolton, who introduced the doctrine of ‘axis of evil’ in Bush administration that mounted Afghan war, is now National Security Advisor in Trump administration. His presence adds to skepticism to the current move for the US pull-out from Afghanistan. Hence, this pull-out, if anything, is understood as run-up to a big move to counter China in South China Sea and Taiwan.
In 2019 even if direct conflict is avoided between these titans, this development will have far-reaching implications for Pakistan as it will no longer be able to run with the hare and hunt with the hound. Pakistan needs to understand that Afghan Taliban are unlikely to appear as the main power player in Afghanistan as they used to be in the past. They will brandish the US pull-out as a trophy that they have won on their own.
For right or wrong reasons, successive Afghan governments have been registering their complaints on international forums that Pakistan harbors Afghan Taliban who unleash hell on Afghan streets. Among other players, Iran is not repeating its past mistakes as it is now in direct talks with Afghan Taliban. When the US itself is pulling out of ‘never-ending’ war, why it expects Pakistan to burn its scarce resources in that same war. Pakistan has slowly but definitely slipped from the US orbit after entering mega infrastructural deals with China. China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) opens up new possibilities. In the post-US scenario, the more Pakistan focuses on its own progress the better. Time to state that we have had enough of mayhem in Afghanistan. *
Published in Daily Times, January 7th 2019