After the recent spar between the US and Pakistan, the Trump administration is seriously considering making changes to its Afghanistan road map. The US recently decided to suspend nearly two billion dollar security assistance to Islamabad as Pakistan was not taking any steps to contain terror activities emanating from its soil. India has been alerting the US and other countries of the dangers of Pakistan based terror training institutes operated by the Pakistan army and the ISI.
The US administration, supported by Pentagon, is understood to have initiated urgent measures to take steps for risk mitigation plan to reach uninterrupted supplies to its troops in Afghanistan. There are about 14 thousand US forces in Afghanistan, besides other para-military and humanitarian organisations.
The US made a second comeback in Afghanistan after the Russian support to anti US forces in Kabul extending its control over a vast region. Unable to tackle the situation, US strategists set up mercenary recruiting and training camps to work as foot soldiers for US army. The recruits known as Taliban grew into a strong and formidable force challenging not only the dispensation in Kabul but also the US forces that initially set up and funded its cadre.
Finally, the Taliban was ousted from Kabul in 2001 and much of its attack capability was contained.
Following a series of counter-terrorism moves, International troops were sent to Afghanistan by the Western military alliance NATO as a sequel to the 9/11 attacks on World Trade Centre in the US.
The number of Nato forces went up to about 1,40,000 around 2011 but slowly came down year after year as NATO countries began to withdraw from combat operations. Most of the anti-terrorism and combat operations were handed over to Afghan security forces and law and order activities were given to Afghan Police.
As of now troops still in Afghanistan are from US, Georgia, Germany, Turkey, Romania, Italy, the UK and Australia. As recently as November 2017, the NATO decided to send a contingent of 3 thousand troops mainly for training and capacity building activities. But the NATO and the US still feels the need to keep a combat-ready force to effectively deal with any resurgence of Taliban and other terrorist outfits like the ISIS which have a large mercenary force ready to strike and destabilise Kabul.
But the US has a much more serious issue on hand. The Trump administration has initiated a series of actions against Islamabad, from cutting military aid to naming and shaming some of the terrorist outfits operating from Pakistan fully patronised by the army.
As a result Pakistan is all set to retaliate and hit the US where it hurts the most.
In 2013, Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed in a US drone strike attack. He was on the list of most-wanted terrorist. The “KILL LIST” terrorist, who carried a bounty of 5 million US dollar on his head, was suspected to have been behind a deadly suicide attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan, car bombing attempt in New York’s Times Square and many other terror attacks in Pakistan killing thousands of civilians and security forces. In spite of his terror agenda, Islamabad wanted to hold peace talks with Hakimullah Mehsud and migrate him to “good Taliban” list.
Following his elimination in a drone attack, Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf party forced the provincial government in Pakistan’s northwest state of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to enforce a blockade preventing the free movement of US and NATO forces.
The route from the northwestern city of Peshawar, one of several overland routes used by the NATO for getting vital supplies into Afghanistan was blocked. This important route is used to transport equipments and military hardware out of Afghanistan as part of US withdrawal of combat force. After four months of negotiations, the blockade was lifted.
In fact, prior to the Tahreek-e-Insaf blockade, the Pakistani government had also enforced a blockade of NATO supply routes in Afghanistan.
In June 2012, 24 Pakistani army personal were killed by a US air attack on their contingent. They were believed to have been part of a terrorist training camp but both the army and the civilian government in Islamabad strongly denied it. Meanwhile, the Pakistan government imposed a seven-month stoppage of NATO movement through Pakistan putting huge pressure on military supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan. Finally, US had to pay a heavy price to cajole Islamabad to lift the blockade.
It is little wonder that the Trump administration is considering alternatives to keep a steady supply route to NATO forces with boots on the ground in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the only other alternative route available to the US is the Chabhahar port in Iran. But it is very unlikely, rather impossible, that Tehran will allow US to use its facility, especially at a time when White House is clapping at the civil unrest against the Khomeini regime.
So, what is the other alternative?
Ideally, the US should cooperate with India and support the freedom movement in Balochistan anf Sindh. Balochistan was illegally occupied by Islamabad in 1948 and since then the patriotic Balochis are resisting the forced take over of their land and resources. Worst is, Pakistan has handed over Balochistan along with all its resources to China as part of the China Pakistan Economic corridor. China has moved its army into Balochistan to protect its assets and carry trading with Africa through Gwadar port. This has serious security implications for India and also world trade as China is effectively controlling the choke points in the Indian Ocean region.
The White House knows the importance of the Indian Ocean region and should realise that it has already lost important strategic space in the Indian Ocean. Any more delay in preventing the Pakistan-China nexus from going to the next level will seriously impact US interest in the region and also in its efforts in safeguarding its interests in the Indo-Pacific.
Is Mr. Donald Trump listening?