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Friday, Dec 06, 2019

Donald Trump’s new Afghanistan gambit

The US president is desperately looking for a success. India has limited options

editorials Updated: Dec 02, 2019 06:42 IST

Hindustan Times
The current Afghan peace talks could be as short-lived as the last one. Or the US could withdraw cold turkey, leaving Afghanistan at the mercy of the Taliban
The current Afghan peace talks could be as short-lived as the last one. Or the US could withdraw cold turkey, leaving Afghanistan at the mercy of the Taliban(AP)

President Donald Trump is once again trying to negotiate a United States (US) military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Last week, he announced his government had restarted negotiations with the Taliban. The last round collapsed in September. Mr Trump was vague about what he hoped to accomplish, saying only he hoped the Taliban wanted “a real deal”. In this round, he is attempting to keep Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, on board. The Afghan leader did lay out some tough prerequisites for an agreement, including a ceasefire and the closure of cross-border terrorist havens, which are based in Pakistan.

Not much of this should come as a surprise. Mr Trump has been desirous of pulling US troops out of almost every overseas theatre, including Europe and Korea. Afghanistan has been a particularly high priority because of its $50-billion annual price tag, and a general weariness among Americans for what has become the US’s longest war. With re-election approaching, Mr Trump is desperate for some policy successes. Many Democratic presidential candidates have pledged a similar pull-out.

New Delhi has been bracing for a US withdrawal from Afghanistan now for some 15 years. Indian officials publicly speak of being thankful to the US for battling the Taliban for so long, and understand that its citizens want the war to end. India may hope Mr Trump’s latest gambit will run aground, but it cannot bank on the US holding the Taliban at bay. Its focus is as much on shaping the circumstances of such a withdrawal, ensuring it is done so as to minimise Pakistan’s influence in a post-withdrawal Afghanistan. That may yet be some time away. Mr Trump has shown no patience for the protracted negotiations and consensus-building that a sensible withdrawal would require. The present process could be as short-lived as the last one. Or the US could withdraw cold turkey, leaving Afghanistan at the mercy of the Taliban. Either possibility cannot be ruled out when someone like Mr Trump is in search of what he believes to be victories.