China and Pakistan have plainly stated their plans for Afghanistan and South Asia.
According to a press release from the November 12 conference held at Islamabad’s Pakistan-China Institute, “Pakistan-Afghanistan-China Trilateral Dialogue supports the CPEC [China-Pakistan Economic Corridor] as key to peace and regional cooperation.”
Pakistani news outlets emphasized the point, one stating, “Pakistan and China on Monday urged Afghanistan to join the Belt & Road Initiative as well as the CPEC.”
Is it a coincidence that such plain speaking occurs in parallel with an uptick in the frequency and intensity of Taliban attacks inside Afghanistan?
Within a span of a few days, Jaghori - long considered a safe district - was being overrunby 1,000 Taliban, while other Taliban killed at least twelve Afghan soldiers and four tribal elders during an attack on a military base in Afghanistan’s northern Baghlan province. And bombs continue to explode in Kabul.
In an effort to lure the Taliban to the bargaining table, the Trump administration may ask the Afghan government to postpone presidential elections - a move the Taliban will undoubtedly construe as a sign of American weakness because they have always claimed the Kabul regime as illegitimate.
In that respect, the Taliban are correct. Other than a “presence” in Afghanistan, the United States has no strategic cards to play.
There is no military solution in Afghanistan, at least from the standpoint of the manner in which we have conducted the war.
After an initial small-footprint victory in late 2001, driving the Taliban out of Afghanistan, the U.S. chose to mount an exhaustive and expensive counterinsurgency campaign with its nation-building component.
At the same time, Pakistan, sustaining the Taliban, waged a proxy war in Afghanistan, much like Pakistan’s and, indirectly, China’s reported support and use of the Islamic extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliates against India.
Pakistan has always controlled the operation tempo of the war as well as the supply of our troops in landlocked Afghanistan.
U.S. inability or unwillingness to attack Taliban safe havens in Pakistan or forcing Islamabad to withdraw its support, essentially rendered a counterinsurgency victory unachievable. It is an obvious deduction the Pentagon should have made long ago, except for its blind love affair with Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency.
After 17 years of strategic mismanagement, the Trump administration is left only with bad options. Getting out of Afghanistan is inevitable. Given the current trends, we couldn’t stay even if we wished to do so.
We should let Pakistan and China “win” and then help them ruin their victory.
Clearly, CPEC is the foundation upon which China and Pakistan intend to exploit their triumph, which is highly vulnerable to the very instability they were inciting in Afghanistan.
Forty years ago, Pakistani President Zia ul Haq said that to control Afghanistan, the country should be kept “boiling at the right temperature.”
Like a frog, CPEC will be slowly boiled in South Asia’s pot of instability. CPEC is the flagship of the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s blueprint for global domination. As the maxim, widely attributed to Napoleon, says “Never interfere with the enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself.”
That is, by harnessing the potential power of ideological fissures, ethnic fault lines and differing national interests, in essence, the ability to manage instability, the U.S. can transform an untenable “presence” into longer-term regional leverage.