Category Archives: Foreign Policvy

The Commonwealth in Conundrum

By Syed Sharfuddin

This month the Commonwealth celebrated the return of Maldives to the organisation taking its membership tally to 54 sovereign states. However, against the tranquil background of colourful flags and welcome speeches, there were also grey clouds looming over the future of the organisation, and in particular the performance of the current Commonwealth Secretary-General who is completing her first term of office next month. According to Commonwealth convention, the Secretary-General of the organisation is automatically eligible for a second term, subject to confirmation by Heads of Government at their next meeting, called CHOGM in Commonwealth parlance. But it seems that the current Secretary-General may be the first to be denied a second term due to poor performance. The next CHOGM will be held in Kigali, Rwanda in June 2020.

The Rt Hon Baroness Patricia Scotland QC was elected Secretary-General at the Malta CHOGM in 2015, defeating two other candidates – Sir Ronald Sanders of Antigua & Barbuda and Ms Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba of Botswana. There was another African candidate in the race but his nomination was withdrawn by his Head of Government a week before the CHOGM.

At the end of the term of Mr Kamalesh Sharma in 2016, it was the turn of the Caribbean region to nominate a candidate for the position of the Secretary-General. In the event, two candidates were nominated from the region – Sir Ronald Sanders from Antigua & Barbuda and Baroness Patricia Scotland from Dominica. Sir Ronald secured the support of 10 of the 12 countries from the Caribbean region, but Baroness Scotland had the backing of the UK, the country of her residence, career and nationality. From Africa, the two candidates were a former Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General from Botswana, and a former Foreign Minister from Tanzania. Like the Caribbean region, the African region was also divided over their regional candidate for the post of Secretary-General.

Baroness Patricia Scotland  was born in Dominica (West Indies) but grew up in the UK and was trained as a successful barrister. In 1997 she was nominated by Prime Minister Tony Blair as a Labour peer in the House of Lords. At the Malta CHOGM two rounds of elections were held in which Sir Ronald lost the first round, and Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba lost the second round. The vote was so close in the second round that Botswana demanded that a third round be held to decide a clear winner but the CHOGM Chairperson (Malta) declared Baroness Patricia Scotland to succeed Kamalesh Sharma as the next Secretary-General.

The appointment of Baroness Patricia Scotland changed the power balance in the Commonwealth and tilted it heavily in favour of UK, which had previously made way for other member states to occupy the top position at the Secretariat. Although she was originally a Caribbean candidate, she was and remains for all practical purposes a British Secretary-General having UK nationality and UK Peerage. According to the founding documents of the Modern Commonwealth adopted in 1949, the Monarch of Great Britain & Northern Ireland, as well as other Dominions and Realms is the Head of the Commonwealth. The Headquarters of the Commonwealth is located in London. In 2018 the UK also became the Chairperson of CHOGM by virtue of hosting the last Commonwealth Summit in London. The UK currently has four positions in the Commonwealth: the Head of the Commonwealth, the Head of the Secretariat, the HQ of the Secretariat and the Chairmanship of CHOGM.

This is not to say that the UK’s responsibilities are not commensurate with the high status it enjoys in the Commonwealth by virtue of its position as the linchpin of the organisation. The UK’s contribution to the annual budget of the Commonwealth Secretariat is one third of its total budget; the UK charges no rent for housing the Secretariat at Marlborough House in the heart of central London, including its security, furnishings and maintenance which runs into thousands of GBP each month. The UK Government provides diplomatic immunity and tax exemptions to Commonwealth Secretariat staff serving as international civil servants. Other major contributors to the Commonwealth Secretariat budget are Australia, Canada and New Zealand, followed by other middle-income countries.

The Memorandum establishing the Commonwealth Secretariat in 1965 envisaged a Secretary-General who would be a Senior High Commissioner. However, in practice only two out of the six Secretaries-General elected so far were senior diplomats – Sir Arnold Smith from Canada (1965-75) and Kamalesh Sharma from India (2008-16). The other four Secretaries-General were a former Foreign Minister of Guyana, Sir Shridath Ramphal (1975-1990), a former Foreign Minister of Nigeria, Chief Emeka Anyaoku (1990-2000), a former Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, The Rt Hon Don Mckinnon (2000-08) and a former Peer and Attorney General from the UK, Baroness Patricia Scotland (2016).

The Commonwealth Secretariat suffered a great deal during the tenure of Mr Kamalesh Sharma (2008-16). He was a great diplomat but lacked the management skills to run a large organisation whose members have diverse and often conflicting interests. They are also not easily given to compromise or consensus. Mr Sharma also did not have the clout and political profile to reach out to a President or Prime Minister over the phone and get their approval on an issue at hand. It was during Sharma’s time that Canada stopped its voluntary contribution to the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC) resulting in drastic cuts in the Secretariat’s development and technical assistance programmes. During Sharma’s two terms, on the whole the Commonwealth was marred by mistrust and loss of confidence. The Commonwealth’s advocacy and advisory programmes declined considerably and human rights concerns in member countries became a sharp reminder of the fundamental values, which the Commonwealth is committed to uphold in its Charter.

In 2016 Baroness Patricia Scotland took over a fractured Secretariat and a financially challenged organisation. The Board of Governors of the Secretariat, comprising Commonwealth High Commissioners in London, as well as the small but influential Finance Committee of the Secretariat, comprising representatives of selected High Commissions, had high expectations from the new Secretary-General to fix the problems and turn the Commonwealth around like in the old days before it went sliding down under Sharma’s administration. The new Secretary-General unfortunately failed to meet these expectations and landed the organisation in deeper mess and controversy even though she executed these steps with all the good intentions in mind for achieving cost efficiencies and enhanced performance.

The new Secretary-General annoyed many senior staff by concentrating decision making in her office. She virtually rendered her senior management team out of work by reaching out to the third tier of staff and decided not to renew the contracts of the three Deputy Secretaries-General when their terms expired. This was a fundamental mistake as these deputies represented different regions and voices of the organisation. She also undermined the democracy and good offices work of the Secretariat by merging the political affairs directorate with the more technical, legal and governance directorate of the Secretariat and kept the post of director political vacant for over a year.

The result was a number of staff departures. Those who stayed were scared, overworked and demoralised. The primary complaint against her is that after assuming charge she discarded the previous reports on the restructuring of the Secretariat and awarded an external contract to review the programmes and management roles of the organisation to a former Labour colleague Lord Patel of Bradford on her personal recommendation by waiving the requirement of calling an open tender. At the time of getting the contract, Lord Patel’s firm KYA Global had assets of £971 and debts of £48,762. His firm received over £250,000 as fees for the review of the Secretariat. Her  critics, who include among others, Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand, point out that this was not only against the Secretariat rules but also a clear conflict of interest. A KPMG audit later identified “significant weaknesses” in the Secretariat’s procurement procedures. Baroness Patricia Scotland’s supporters who comprise mostly the Caribbean countries, Nigeria and Namibia have said that she is being targeted by the old Anglo Saxon Commonwealth because she is ‘black’ and that the Secretariat did not break any rules and obtained value for money in the contract awarded to KYA Global to recommend measures to modernise the Secretariat.

However, the audit report was only the last straw on the camel’s back. A lot of criticism had piled up against the current Secretary-General in her first term. In January 2017 the BBC reported that officials at the British Department for International Development (DfID) were unhappy with her poor leadership. To support the Secretary-General the FCO appointed an acting chief operating officer at the Secretariat whose salary came from the British treasury. In December 2018 an employment tribunal awarded compensation to a Deputy Secretary-General who accused the Secretary-General of breaching her employment contract and terminating her after two years. Earlier in the year, a staff member posted in the Secretary-General’s office had also won compensation for unfair dismissal. He was hired by Kamalesh Sharma but was relieved of his duties after Baroness Patricia Scotland took over from Sharma. Commonwealth’s major donors see these payouts as a serious governance issue because this money, if saved, could have gone to fund some of the development projects of the Commonwealth.  The current Secretary-General is also accused of self-projection and concentration of authority. Her visits to member countries have been unnecessarily long and often without senior staff. Recently, the Secretary-General visited India for five days to attend the annual strategy conference of the Observer Research Foundation. She also visited Swaziland for four days.

It appears that there are twice as many countries that are not in favour of the current Secretary-General getting a second term compared to the one third who may wish her to carry on for another four years. Australia, the UK, Canada and New Zealand have decided to stop their contributions to the Commonwealth Secretariat pending the publication of the independent auditor’s report and until they secure the assurance that she will step down after June 2020.

This is not the first time an incumbent Secretary-General has received opposition from member countries for a second term. In 1979 Secretary-General Sir Shridath Ramphal was threatened by India when his first term came to an end but the opposition did not gain momentum and he was re-elected to a second (and indeed third) term unopposed. At the 2003 Abuja CHOGM, Commonwealth Secretary-General Don Mckinnon actually had a Minister level candidate from Sri Lanka officially stand against him in the election. Even though many African Heads who were angry with Mckinnon over Zimbabwe voted for Sri Lanka’s candidate, Don Mckinnon managed to get a clear majority for a second term. Unless Baroness Patricia Scotland resigns from office, she is likely to relive the experience of Don Mckinnon at the Kigali CHOGM in 2020, but the odds are very much against her.

The Conservative government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson has no love remaining for a Labour Peer who has regrettably proved to be divisive for the organisation at a time when the UK needs reliable trading partners in the Commonwealth following its exit from the EU. The UK also realises that even if the majority of developing countries from the Caribbean and African regions back Baroness Patricia Scotland for a second term, she will not be able to receive much cooperation from the old Commonwealth who control the funding of most Commonwealth programmes, including Commonwealth’s technical assistance and economic development projects. The UK government is likely to advise the current Secretary-General to step down if it can find a suitable replacement for her. But the challenge is to find a person who is both capable of steering the organisation out of troubled waters and is also well known internationally to secure the agreement of Commonwealth Heads at the next CHOGM in June 2020. A quiet head hunting is currently ongoing and some names have been mentioned, including that of the Foreign Minister of Kenya, who may be in a position to become Baroness Patricia’s replacement.

It cannot be ruled out that the old Commonwealth group’s criticism of Baroness Patricia Scotland would be seen by some African countries in the prism of racism, as hinted at a Board of Governors’ meeting in London last week by the High Commissioners of Nigeria and Namibia. But let us not forget that in 2003 some African countries had challenged the second term of a ‘white’ Secretary-General. At Kigali, African Heads may use the advantage of a CHOGM being hosted by an African country to claim that it is Africa’s turn to fill the Secretary-General’s post if Baroness Patricia Scotland cannot continue for a second term. It is ironic that it was African countries themselves who breached the precedent of regional rotation by supporting an African candidate in 2015 when it was the turn of the Caribbean to have its Secretary-General. Interestingly, Baroness Scotland combines three regions in one person. She is non-white by descent (African), Caribbean by her country of birth (Dominica) and European by her nationality (British). The rotation principle is therefore completely out of the window for the position of the new Secretary-General. The race is open for any capable person who has the capacity to comprehend and manage the finances and programmes of the organisation for its members and who possesses the political clout and intellectual ability to restore the lost place of the Commonwealth at the global stage.

It cannot be left unsaid that many of the Commonwealth’s current problems are rooted in the unwillingness of donors to provide enough funds for the Commonwealth to retain staff expertise and implement its development projects across the diverse regions of the Commonwealth. An example is the election monitoring function of the Commonwealth for which funds are always found but there is little or no provision in the Commonwealth budget to support member countries’ poverty alleviation programmes or livelihood support projects. With a modest budget, the Commonwealth’s bigger and ambitious mission cannot be achieved.

At their next CHOGM, Heads may elect Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates to run the Commonwealth but unless governments are willing to provide sufficient resources to the new Secretary-General, not much would change. To repopulate a jungle and bring back its lions, elephants, buffaloes and flora and fauna to the dried waterholes, it is important to preserve the rainwater and stop land encroachment. But if countries contribute peanuts and expect to see lions, they will only get monkeys.

London: 9 February 2020

* Mr Syed Sharfuddin is a political analyst. He served as a Special Adviser in the Political Affairs Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat from 2000-2006.

Did Imran Khan miss his CMC moment and lose Kashmir?

By Syed Sharfuddin*

If the 1999 Kargil war was the botched Bay of Pigs invasion for Islamabad, the unprecedented step taken by New Delhi on 5 August 2019 to annex and divide the occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir was no less than the U2 plane discovery about USSR placing nuclear missiles inside Cuba in 1962 only 150 miles away from the US mainland.

For a change let us place the current Indo-Pakistan tensions in the setting of the cold war years of 1960s between two nuclear rivals, the US and the former USSR, each of which embraced the doctrine of mutually assured destruction wholeheartedly in the belief that this was the only mad way to avoid the annihilation of human race the world should never see. In that uncertain decade, both countries jealously guarded their respective zones of influence: the US in South America and the former USSR in Central Asia. Both countries also courted other countries, especially in Eastern and Western Europe respectively and the newly independent former colonies as a measure of their foreign policy success.

If the 1999 Kargil war was the botched Bay of Pigs invasion for Islamabad, when Pakistan’s military command failed to recapture the territory lost to India in the 1971 war, the unprecedented political step taken by New Delhi on 5 August 2019 to annex and divide the occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir was no less than the U2 plane discovery that USSR was placing nuclear missiles inside Cuba to bring its attack capability only 150 miles away from the US state of Florida.

Back then in 1962, it was a decisive event in the history of the US-USSR relations. President John F Kennedy had to take the tough decision to either allow it to happen but with a strong diplomatic protest and UN and international pressure to keep Moscow away from any misadventure, or call Nikita Khrushchev’s bluff by threatening to go to any extent, including the prospect of a nuclear war against the USSR. In this nerve wrecking display of brinkmanship backed by military will and a determination not to give up, the USSR blinked first and agreed to remove its missiles from Cuba, provided the US did not attack Cuba. Nikita Khrushchev also demanded that the US withdraw its nuclear missiles from Turkey, which posed a threat to the USSR. The Kennedy administration agreed to the first Soviet condition publicly, but decided to meet their second condition quietly. The world breathed a sigh of relief that the crisis, which started on 16 October was over after 13 breath holding days on 28 October 1962.

Could it be that India’s far reaching measure in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir on 5 August 2019 was no less than the Cuban Missile Crisis (CMC) moment for Prime Minister Imran Khan, which tested his ability to act decisively in times of extreme crisis and also checked out if Pakistan had the resilience and courage to challenge India in the same tone and manner as the US had done the USSR in 1962?

Could it be that India’s far reaching measure in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir on 5 August 2019 was no less than the Cuban Missile Crisis (CMC) moment for Prime Minister Imran Khan, which tested his ability to act decisively in times of extreme crisis and also checked out if Pakistan had the resilience and courage to challenge India in the same tone and manner as the US had done the USSR in 1962? The reaction time for this response was short, lasting only few days when Indian political opposition, as well as Indian public opinion was deeply divided on the BJP government’s surprise action in Kashmir. The jailed and house-arrested J&K National Conference leadership, which had since 1947 consented to stay with India as part of the accession agreement, signed by Maharaja Hari Singh on 26 October 1947 with reservations, was regretting its decision to have discarded the two-nation theory. The world anxiously waited to see how Pakistan would react to this development in a disputed territory with India on which it has never compromised both diplomatically and in the battlefield. Even within the BJP leadership there were fears that this action was too precarious and may start a war with Pakistan, coming soon after the show of nerves in the aftermath of the downing of two IAF planes by PAF on 27 February and the return of the captured Indian officer on 1 March as a gesture of goodwill by Pakistan.

There were clear messages on social media pointing to India’s action on Kashmir following the 2018 tweet of Subramanian Swamy, which was re-tweeted by Indo-Israel Friendship Association.

As days passed, it became clear that India’s fears were misplaced. Pakistan did not read the signs of what was to come on 5 August and that the annexation of J&K was going to become a reality. Pakistan also did not have a contingency plan which could be unrolled hours after the ordinance was signed by the President of India revoking the special status of the disputed state of J&K guaranteed under Articles 35-A and 370 of the Indian Constitution for 69 years. Pakistan was also unprepared to call India’s bluff with a hard call of going to any extent on Kashmir and demanding a roll back of India’s action. Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Foreign Minister were late in the joint session of the Pakistan parliament to condemn the Indian move, which was a tell tale sign that they were busy in emergency meetings convened to discuss how to react to the new development.

The Prime Minister was overheard in parliament asking the opposition leader: “what do you want me to do?” “Should I declare war against India”? This said everything about what Pakistan was going to do about the illegal annexation of Kashmir by India – anything but war.

The Prime Minister was also overheard in the parliamentary session asking the opposition leader: “what do you want me to do?” “Should I declare war against India”? This said everything about what Pakistan was going to do about the illegal annexation of Kashmir by India – anything but war. The meeting of the National Security Committee confirmed on 7 August that Pakistan will use diplomatic means, multilateral diplomacy, trade boycott and high pitched protests to react to the situation but it will do nothing practical to claim the entire state of J&K as Pakistan’s territory in its constitution, or use the nuclear card credibly to force India through the international community to reverse this step and find a bilateral means of resolving the dispute without changing he status quo of the state of J&K.

While Imran Khan weighed the economic cost of war for Pakistan, he ignored the fact that it was the only credible threat he could get away with internationally because Kashmir remains a flash point between India and Pakistan.

Exercising the CMC moment would have meant Prime Minister Imran Khan addressing the Parliament on 6 August and calling on India to immediately retract its steps in Kashmir or be ready for Pakistan to go to any extent, including the prospect of a nuclear war to restore status quo ante. This could have been followed by PAF resuming flight patrolling, movement of a couple of infantry divisions from the western to the eastern border, and Pakistan test-firing a long-range and a short-range missile capable of delivering nuclear payload. Such demonstrable steps would have resulted in all the major powers sending special envoys to Islamabad calling for restraint and forcing New Delhi to reverse its steps in Kashmir. The prospect of a mushroom cloud hovering over their tall business empires and commercial and tourism sites would have sent all the Gulf states in panic, preventing them from conferring any national awards to the Indian Prime Minister and suggesting that they back him on Kashmir.

Under these tense conditions, the UNSC would have acted loudly with a resolution on Kashmir calling on both India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute peacefully, failing which they could themselves authorise the UN to intervene in Kashmir under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. In the negotiations brokered by an ever ambitious President Trump, India would have agreed to withdraw its troops presence from the state of J&K on the condition that Pakistan also do likewise from Azad Kashmir. A demilitarised conflict territory would then be amenable for a referendum to decide the future of the Kashmiri people by Kashmiris themselves. But that was not to be.

While Imran Khan weighed the economic cost of war for Pakistan, he ignored the fact that it was the only credible threat he could get away with internationally because Kashmir remains a flash point between India and Pakistan and the world is not ready for a nuclear war between the two enemy countries.

After three weeks of noisy media statements; hundreds of social media posts; a routine meeting of UNSC members on the situation in Kashmir, which released no statement and no call for another meeting; three international human rights organisations objecting to the gross human rights violations in Indian Held Kashmir but stopping short of questioning India’s occupation of the territory in violation of the UNSC resolutions; deep divisions within the OIC block in responding to Kashmir’s annexation; silence of the Commonwealth and G7 on the new development; and Pakistan’s own admission that Pakistan does not desire a war with India but will deliver full response in responding to an aggression, India is emerging more confident and assertive on Kashmir and might start the next phase of changing the social fabric of Kashmir by rounding off the Kashmiri opposition using electronic surveillance, relocating RSS cadres and continued armed repression in Kashmir.

What stopped the government from taking its own constitutional route to claiming the whole of J&K as Pakistan territory in defiance of the dubious instrument of accession of October 1947?

Some searching questions remain, including the title of this essay, which asks: Did Imran Khan miss his CMC moment and lose Kashmir? Are wars won with weapons and men or with strategy and good timing? Did his army chief tell the Prime Minister that Pakistan was not ready for a war on Indian held Kashmir? Was there an intelligence failure to foresee the action of 5 August 2019 and prepare contingency planning? There were clear messages on social media pointing to this action following the tweet of Subramanian Swamy, which was re-tweeted by Indo-Israel Friendship Association on 22 June 2018. What stopped the government from taking its own constitutional route to claiming the whole of J&K as Pakistan territory in defiance of the dubious instrument of accession of October 1947?

Or is it that Pakistan’s CMC moment will come only if the integrity of Azad Kashmir is threatened. Or it may never come because this is another time and another world-order in which economic interests overtake foreign and security policy, including principles, rule of international law and old historical records and unfulfilled international commitments.

London 27 August 2019

*Mr Syed Sharfuddin is a former diplomat and a former Special Adviser for Asia in the Political Affairs Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat, London, UK (2000-2006).

President Trump’s August 2017 speech on Afghanistan is a serious statement of US Administration’s new Afghanistan Policy. Well Done Sir!

President Trump’s address on Afghanistan delivered last night in front of the US service personnel in Fort Meyer, Virginia curiously coincided with the long full solar eclipse in the United States for over 99 years. Whether it is a good omen for the US and a bad omen for the Taliban we will know in about five years which is the normal time to see the results of a major policy initiative and also a good time to discuss the achievements of the President’s first term in office. The morning after, President Trump’s speech made major headlines, especially in countries directly concerned with the peace and stability of Afghanistan.

President Trump’s core campaign supporters, those belonging to the Steve Bannon camp were expecting him to announce a troop withdrawal in line with his campaign criticism of Obama’s policy of wasting America’s resources in fighting other nations’ wars. On the other hand, political and military observers who have access to official documents expected President Trump to announce an increase in US troops serving in Afghanistan. But he surprised both by siding with the current status quo and by not telling the exact US strategy to win this long drawn war in a country that is still far from stability despite millions of dollars spent by Washington on training Afghan security personnel and eliminating the Taliban threat to the US, not to mention an increase in their attacks on the politically fragile and highly corrupt and incompetent government members in Afghanistan.

The US President’s speech cannot be simply dismissed as Trump talk because it is, frankly speaking, the product of seven months of hard deliberations in the new US Administration, involving both civilian and military advisers. It is the 2017 policy statement of the President of the United States on Afghanistan. The US has made the right move by announcing that it has no intention of withdrawing from Afghanistan. A withdrawal would have created a vacuum which would have intensified the proxy war between India and Pakistan and encouraged Taliban and other local warlords to fill in the breach and reverse all the gains which have been made so far in eliminating terrorism from Afghanistan.

However a new twist in the fresh US Afghan policy is to rely more on Afghanistan, US’ NATO allies and the regional powers to pursue the scorched earth policy against Taliban in Afghanistan. But a greater reliance on India instead of Pakistan with a view to reducing the US liability of funding the stability and development of Afghanistan is the red herring in Mr Trump’s new jar of jellybeans. The US Administration earlier tried a military surge with the support of NATO led ISAF but did not succeed. It earlier tried to strengthen the Afghan security forces against the Taliban through training and capacity building but did not succeed. It earlier gave millions of Dollars to Pakistan in military and economic aid in the hope that Pakistan will eliminate the Taliban but it did not succeed. Now the US aims to play the India card to see if New Delhi can help bring stability to Afghanistan by using India’s economic muscle.

But unfortunately the US Administration will fail in its new approach because of four key factors. 1) India is not yet used to pumping millions of Dollars into economic aid of other countries like China and Russia and whatever development it will carry out in Afghanistan will be too small to make any substantial change in the lives of the poor Afghans and buy their loyalties. 2) the US will be ignoring the local militants who are not Taliban but their sympathisers for a host of other reasons. They will feel left out and will take to the hills again to join Taliban and continue to destabilise Afghanistan as they have done for the past many years. Theirs is a low maintenance militancy which requires modest means and is far less costly compared to the US servicemen and other foreign armed personnel deployed in Afghanistan. Russia and China will be only too pleased to see the Americans continue to drain their resources by remaining militarily preoccupied in Afghanistan. 3) The Taliban know that the US is completely stretched out in Iraq and Syria and has identified ISIS, Iran and DPRK as greater threats to global peace and stability. Its capacity to commit more resources in Afghanistan is much reduced; and 4), the US is making a strategic mistake by undermining the sacrifices of a key ally Pakistan in the Afghan equation.

The key to solving the problem of Taliban is with Pakistan and not with New Delhi. The US can use its aid muscle to obtain this key but it won’t be able to do so because of other choices available to Islamabad. As a BBC correspondent in Islamabad has noted, “Pakistan has grown increasingly closer to China, and has also experienced millions of Dollars withheld by the US for allegedly not taking enough action against the Taliban-allied Haqqani network”. The relationship is already sour and can’t be made worse by brow beating and finger pointing. Without Pakistan, neither the US nor India can make any progress in Afghanistan.

The Afghan government, besides cheering the US for its support is woefully inefficient and unable to govern a multi-ethnic and communally pluralistic Afghanistan. On its own it cannot keep all its ethnic communities united and satisfied. Pashtun Afghans from where the Taliban are largely drawn need to be made stakeholders in Afghanistan’s future decisions. Moreover, the people-to-people contacts on both sides of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan are deep and unbreakable. External pressure, whether exerted through a carrot and stick approach or applied through direct military action led by drones and airborne strikes can hardly bring positive results. If anything, by pursuing an aggressive do more agenda, the US will draw Pakistan closer to China and Russia and erode its influence in Islamabad which it enjoys to this date, thanks to a pro-US bureaucracy and the military whether it be the product of their Western training or the result of the millions of Dollars of aid, which President Trump has mentioned as the fee America has paid to Islamabad for receiving its services in the past years. Islamabad’s reply to this kind of rhetoric is: “you gave us the money and we rounded up all the bad Arabs and gave them to you. Period.”

So where do we go from here. Will the US be able to persuade India to play a greater economic role in Afghanistan? Will Pakistan be happy to see the US ignore it in Afghanistan at the cost of India? Will Russia and China let the US bring peace in Afghanistan and keep their hands off from a country which offers so much business prospects in economic rebuilding and infrastructure development in the future? Will Taliban give up arms and become absorbed in the Afghan melting pot if they are not all blown off in Tora Bora mountains or lured with huge sums of money to change loyalties? The US Administration must have thought-through these scenarios before the speech was finalised and delivered yesterday but President Trump did not speculate anything in his speech for a good reason. He does not want the US to show its pack of cards on Afghanistan. He did say however: “The American people expect to see real reforms, real progress, and real results. Our patience is not unlimited”. But as far as speeches go, it was a brilliant piece of speech the President delivered yesterday. Thank you sir.

London 22 August 2017