President Donald Trump’s advisers have touted his strategy in Afghanistan, unveiled last week, as taking a regional approach to America’s longest war. But Trump’s speech contained only the briefest reference to the roles and responsibilities of two of Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors, India and Pakistan, which are so critical to the long-term fortunes of that beleaguered land. Trump’s call for a bigger role for India and his warning to Pakistan about its cross-border dealings were nothing new, and they failed to acknowledge the larger strategic tradeoffs and complexities in the region.
A true regional approach would look quite different and would not be driven by Washington’s interests. There are more risks than opportunities for the United States in such an outcome. But it may well happen.
Last week, Trump addressed Pakistan and India in typical Trumpian terms, characterizing their ties with the United States as transactional and based almost solely on economic benefit. Trump, of course, wants to change the terms of those deals. As he sees it, Pakistan should want to partner with the U.S. in Afghanistan and abandon its support for the Taliban and other terrorist groups out of an obligation to conform with Washington’s preferences, given the billions in U.S. assistance it’s received over the years. India, for its part, is the net beneficiary of bilateral trade with the U.S., and Trump sees that as sufficient leverage to insist that India do more to help Afghanistan with economic aid and development projects.