The U.S.’s policy on Afghanistan must combine a military strategy with a diplomatic and economic plan, former Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Nisha Biswal, has said. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster is travelling to Kabul, Islamabad and New Delhi even as the Trump administration is reviewing the U.S policy on Afghanistan. In a show of strength, the U.S. used its most lethal non-nuclear bombs on an Islamic State target in Afghanistan last week.
In an interview before the bombing of the IS target, Ms. Biswal told The Hindu . “There are some indications that there is a willingness (of the Trump administration) to increase the level of troops in Afghanistan. That would be welcome. But a security strategy that is not paired with a diplomatic and economy strategy has limitations. I would urge there must be a comprehensive strategy, working with the countries in the region, as the durable way forward.”
The U.S commander in Afghanistan has recently asked for troops increase to break what he described as a stalemate in the military conflict.
Ms. Biswal, who continues to stay engaged with the region’s politics after leaving the administration, said India was a crucial partner in Afghanistan but India’s role in the future of Afghanistan must be carefully calibrated. Talking of the Obama administration’s engagement with India on Afghanistan, she said: “I think there was caution on both sides. There was a desire not to make the challenges facing Afghanistan about India. I think there was a reluctance from the Indian side, and there was reluctance from our side. We were mindful of the important role that India plays in terms of its political relationship and its potential for being a security partner. On the other hand, there are complexities within the region.. That is something that we did very closely with our Indian colleagues.”
The former top diplomat for the region said Pakistan, Russia, China and Central Asian countries were all stakeholders in Afghanistan. “You have multiple stakes at play. We have to show American leadership in forging that partnership,” she said.
The relations between the U.S. and India are strong in their fundamentals and are unlikely to be affected by the change in administration, the diplomat, who has played a crucial role in cementing the ties, said. She said she had no reason to believe the new administration would take a different view on India. “I don’t yet know whether the political leadership of this administration has come to that (same view as the Obama administration had) on India. They have not articulated it yet but it to be expected in the initial months of any administration, when it is like drinking through the firehose, trying to figure out multiple things at the same time. It takes some time to get to that point (of articulating its approach towards India),” she said.
Ms. Biswal, however, added any transactional approach to the relationship could be damaging. “That is a concern,” she said of President’s Donald Trump’s approach of trying to make international interactions into transactional deals.
The next step in bilateral ties is about aligning the diplomatic and security initiatives of both countries in Indo-Pacific. “What we can do is deepening our inter-operability of forces, disaster management, maritime security …working together for peace and security in the region. These are not transactional -- that you do this for me and I do this for me. These are long term alignments of capabilities and long-term assurances on how you want to position, and the posturing. We may have done a lot of that. But there is more,” she said.