Binoo Joshi

J K News Today Foreign policy commentary

President Donald  Trump’s second  State of the Union Address on Tuesday night  was also  America’s big foreign policy statement under his administration and  his words on ending war in the trouble-torn Afghanistan  was  of a particular interest  to  India and Pakistan . The surprise was that neither India nor Pakistan  was mentioned in his all-important address  of 2019.

There was a time when the Trump administration had envisaged  a role for India in Afghanistan . That was  perhaps a balancing act because America did not trust  Pakistan . Trump had exposed Pakistan’s double-standard in his New Year  Tweet on January 1, 2018  in which he had  voiced his frustration  saying ,” The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years , and they have  given us nothing but lies and deceit , thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No More.

Now when the US-Afghan talks are underway  and are reported to have made significant progress as the two sides are ready to oblige each other in never-before scenario in the past decade – American administration is keen on the return of  its soldiers from Afghanistan  as early as possible  meeting one of the key demands of Taliban  that now controls more than 60 percent of Afghan territory . Taliban is offering assurances of not allowing the foreign terror groups  like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State to  run their operations from Afghan soil  that sound good and have some valid reasons too  because Taliban paid a heavy price for its  links and hospitality to Al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden  in the post9/11 era.

That Taliban is a creation of Pakistan is a fact that the U S knows it better  than any other country . Pakistan had set up this group of armed  militia to achieve its goal of strategic depth in the post-Soviet Union era in  Afghanistan . The US is also aware that Pakistan is using Taliban to draw concessions from the US that will stand Islamabad in good stead if an agreement is reached , the time line of which is not in sight as yet.

The U S Commanders and  its points person Khalilzad Zalmay have been in touch with Pakistan and seeking its assistance  while negotiating with Taliban. While Taliban sits across the table with the US negotiators in Doha, Qatar, it is Pakistan that is prompting  Taliban . That makes the matrix of the talks very clear.

India should have been involved in the talks, directly or indirectly because  India is the biggest country in the region . The Americans  who have attempted and succeeded  using India as a counterweight to the expanding geostrategic power of China  have shown no compunction in denying India a role in the talks with Taliban that could be a trendsetter in the region if these happen  to succeed .  India is  seen as a patron of the Afghan government that is detested by Taliban , and that could be the reason that  Washington is not involving India in these crucial talks , for that could  annoy both Taliban and Pakistan . It is no secret that Pakistan is singularly  hostile to the idea of India’s role in Afghanistan . Its spy agency has sponsored a series of attacks on the Indian interests and men in Afghanistan over the years , so the US known for sacrificing everything for its self-interests  can  go to any extent to keep the irritants away . So it explains why India did not figure in  President Trump’s SOTU  address.  But why Pakistan  did not find a mention  is a deliberate act on part of President Trump . He did not want to give Pakistan the credibility as a peacemaker that it is seeking .

All of this becomes clear  in what President Trump said when he spoke of Afghan talks.

“In Afghanistan, my Administration is holding constructive talks with a number of Afghan groups, including the Taliban. As we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troop presence and focus on counter-terrorism. We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement — but we do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace.”  India and Pakistan are absent  in this part of his speech  for the reasons cited above . India , however, needs to draw its own lessons .

Binoo  Joshi is the Editor of J K News Today