It has been a week of repeated insults to U.S. adventurism and Donald Trump’s ill-defined Middle East policy. In Iraq, thanks to Iranian backing and astute negotiation, Kirkuk province is back in the hands of the Shia government in Baghdad halving the Kurds’ oil revenues. Iran now has a land bridge through Syria to the Mediterranean improving the accessibility of its exports to Europe.
Mr. Barzani’s premature Kurdish referendum has backfired. It forced prime minister Haider al-Abadi’s government in Baghdad to act and it angered Turkey, always wary of any siren calls for Kurdish independence.
Mayhem best describes the situation in Afghanistan this week. In separate attacks almost 180 have been killed.
On Tuesday, at least 30 died in car bombings in Ghazni. Also on Tuesday, 41 were killed in an attack on a police training center in the eastern city of Gardez.
On Thursday, an audacious attack on a military base in Kandahar province, cost the lives of 43 Afghan soldiers. And, on the same day, in Ghazni province two police officers were killed.
Two mosques were attacked as worshipers gathered for Friday prayers when mosques are full: A gunman opened fire in a Kabul Shia mosque, the Imam Zaman, and then detonated an explosive. At least 39 died. Another attack on a Sunni mosque in Ghor province killed 20 including a pro-government militia commander.
Afghanistan is multi-ethnic with Pashtuns forming the largest plurality. When the U.S. invaded with the help of the Uzbek and Tajik Northern Alliance, their actions did not endear them to the Pashtun population. If the extremist Taleban were disliked by most, they, too, have learned. Furthermore they are Pashtun; they are neighbors; they are friends and relatives. Above all, they are there and will remain there, and the Pashtun have little choice. So the Taleban are back, with control or effective presence in almost half the country.
The 16-year history of the war has demonstrated quite transparently the inadvisability (if not the impossibility) of a military solution. Sending a few thousand more troops, letting the Afghans rot in their own mess while blaming Pakistan for porous borders, although callous, is one way to skip past the problem. It is all also a reminder of the time when Cambodia was being blamed because Vietnamese insurgents filtered back and forth across the border. Cambodia paid heavily, and, while not suffering that kind of horror, Pakistan, too, has paid a hefty price in bombings and insurgencies.
Whether Donald Trump believes in a military solution or is putting on a show for his right wing supporters is less important than an effort to end the tragedy. For that there is only one way … a negotiated settlement. Trump also fails to realize Pakistan’s dependence on the U.S. is rapidly diminishing in light of Chinese large-scale initiatives, and excessive pressure can only backfire. Pakistan is not the problem; U.S. presence, as a foreign invader, is.
The Pak-Afghan border is a mountainous region difficult to police. The British drew the Durand separation line unilaterally, yet families live on both sides; in fact Afghanistan lays claim to some territory on the Pakistan side. Remember it was all one country for several centuries before the British arrived. Cross-border marriages, family get-togethers at holiday festivals and so on are not infrequent. At least that was the norm until the U.S. invasion. One wonders how much Donald Trump really knows about the area.
For that matter, how aware are we of all of Donald Trump’s antics. For example, how many people know he has performed as himself on World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). The fights of course are staged. Once he fought his friend Vince McMahon and at the end of the bout shaved Vince’s head (he was the designated loser). McMahon is the majority owner of WWE, and his wife Linda is a former CEO of the company. President Trump appointed her head of the Small Business Administration, a Cabinet-level position.