US President Donald Trump announces his strategy for Afghanistan during an address from Fort Myer, Virginia, on August 21, 2017. Photo:  Reuters/Joshua Roberts
US President Donald Trump announces his strategy for Afghanistan during an address from Fort Myer, Virginia, on August 21, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts

The late Zbigniew Brzezinski was the mastermind of the Afghan “jihad”. It was under his auspices that the United States created “mad mullahs” to unleash “terror” against the Soviet regime in Kabul. When the deed was done, and the Red Army packed its bags and went home, the US abandoned Afghanistan. Pakistan, on the other hand, was slapped with the Pressler Amendment in return for its servitude in the Washington-certified “halal” jihad.

Last month, President Donald Trump announced a new US policy for the Afghan war and the South Asian region. It appears flawed, but in fact it is a diversion.

It is allegedly based on the premise that Afghanistan must not be allowed to become a terrorist safe haven again, or in simple words revert to a new Taliban regime. So the first aim of the policy is to “kill the terrorists”. The second aim is to encourage increased Indian involvement in Afghanistan for “nation building”, something that the US says is not its own focus anymore. The third aim of the policy is to remove existing timelines until the first two goals are achieved.

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Zbigniew Brzezinski (right) and General Brent Scowcroft participate in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington, DC, in 2009.

In its essence, the new policy holds no substance that should worry the Taliban. So, what exactly is the US doing in Afghanistan? General James Mattis, the current US defense secretary, just wants to go back in with more men and “all the elements of state power” to kill more Taliban. But for the other generals around Trump, the everlasting war is a necessary cover for something bigger.

There are no love affairs in the cruel and ruthless world of international politics. There are no permanent friends or foes but interests, as Henry Kissinger once very aptly suggested. After a decades-long uneasy alliance, the US once again is abandoning Pakistan, and this time apparently for good.

Pakistan is now caught in a “grand chessboard” where major powers are vying for primacy in Eurasia, formerly known as the Grand Silk Road. Every geopolitical enthusiast from Washington to Beijing has read Brzezinski’s 1997 book The Grand Chessboard, and everyone believes in it like Holy Scripture. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a testament to the truth in Brzezinski’s words: Whoever controls Eurasia controls the world.

In his book, Brzezinski warns the future leaders of his country that no challenger should emerge that is capable of dominating Eurasia so as to challenge America’s global pre-eminence. But enter China, with its gigantic financial muscle, more than twice as big as the other four BRICS members (Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa) put together, and threatening to jeopardize US hegemony from the Amazon to the South China Sea.

For decision-makers in Pakistan, the US policy is in essence an existential threat to their country. While the US wants India to have the lion’s share in Afghanistan, it wants Pakistan to stop differentiating between the “good” and the “bad” Taliban. Pakistan says it doesn’t discriminate between the two, and that both operate from Afghanistan, the former against the US and the latter against Pakistan.

The US will have none of it. It wants to see Pakistan engage both of them in combat. American generals expect such a confrontation to result in completely pushing the Afghan war into Pakistan, providing the victory the US is looking for. Once Pakistan is out of the picture, India will get more space to compete with China.

That will be the end of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and to China’s dreams in this part of the region. But whether Pakistanis will toe the American line or the Chinese will give up so easily remains to be seen. On several immediate geo-strategic concerns, they stand with Pakistan. Pakistan has chosen to go regional in its approach to withstand US pressure. From Beijing to Moscow, and Ankara to Riyadh, Pakistan is seeking assurances.

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Rohingya refugees arrive in Whaikhyang, Bangladesh, by boat from Myanmar on September 8.

At the other end of the South Asian region, the sudden outbreak of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and the attention it has gained on the social and conventional media merit skepticism. It reminds of the fateful days of the Arab Spring.

Coincidently, Rakhine state happens to be on the BRI map. The Rohingya Muslims and the Buddhists in Myanmar have a history of bad blood, and proxy war between them dates back to colonial times. A new proxy war may very well be brewing in Rakhine. The “halal” jihad is probably on its way.

How far China’s patience will go is the million-dollar question everyone in Washington wants to be answered. As far as the United States is concerned, its primacy in Eurasia must not be surrendered to the Dragon.

So this is a recipe for total war. The ghost of Zbigniew Brzezinski couldn’t be happier.

Bilal Khan is a PhD student in Political Science at the University of North Texas. His research interests include IR Theory, Foreign Policy Analysis, Conflicts, South and Central Asia.

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