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‘Af-Pak’ region in focus as Trump seeks policy reset

BY M. R. JOSSE
MRJ 1TAMPA, FL: Associated Press (AP) informs that President Donald Trump is seeking a reset of his key public policies via his State of the Union address to Congress.
Though we will know what’s what before this sees light of day, it is revealing that he reportedly plans to put aside his combative tone for one of compromise, appealing beyond his base as he strives to build “a safe, strong and proud America” while tackling five priority themes, including “terrorism and global threats.”
AFGHANISTAN
That America needs to ‘reset’ her policy button, particularly in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre, could hardly have been made plainer than by recent events in Afghanistan and their ripple effects in Pakistan – and beyond.
But, first, some sombre facts: On Monday, Islamic State gunmen attacked an army garrison near a military academy in Kabul where, following a gun battle between security forces and five heavily armed assailants, at least five innocent people were left dead while two assailants were shot, two detonated suicide vests and another was captured.
On Saturday, a Taliban-claimed car bomb attack in Kabul left 100 plus people dead and 235 wounded. That humungous blast came merely a week after Taliban militants slew 22 people following a 13-hour siege of the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, where 14 foreigners were killed, including American nationals.
Now, let’s venture beyond those chilling statistics. According to AP, the deteriorating security situation has infuriated Afghans, understandably tired after 16 years of war. “The Afghans have expressed their anger with neighbouring Pakistan for harboring insurgents and with the U.S.-led coalition for its inability to suppress the insurgency. They have also blamed the deteriorating security situation on a deeply divided government embroiled in political feuding that has paralyzed Parliament.”
At this juncture, it would be only fair to note that, after Saturday’s slaughter, Islamabad issued a statement that condemned the bombing, declaring, “No cause or ends justify acts of terrorism against innocent people.” Similarly, mention must be made that Trump issued a prompt statement condemning the “despicable car bomb attack in Kabul.”
Noteworthy, too, is the following account in the New York Times, wherein its correspondents in Kabul, quoting unnamed analysts, say that the carnage is tied “to President Trump’s decision last month to increase pressure on Pakistan, long seen as supplying the Taliban as a proxy face in Afghanistan. Mr. Trump made a gamble to try to tilt the war in Afghanistan towards a resolution, holding back security aid to Pakistan.”
PAKISTAN
An even more enticing theory is advanced by Ian Bremmer of Time magazine who argues that Trump turning his back on Pakistan has given China an opportunity to move into space left behind in the region by the United States.
“It’s in Pakistan that declining U.S. influence in the world is most immediately obvious. China is already moving into the vacuum that the U.S. has left behind, spying a means to counter-balance India, gain access to an Indian Ocean port and score a strategic win against Trump…Pakistan still matters for the U.S. The war in next-door Afghanistan is not getting better. Counter-terrorism coordination will only become more important as ISIS fighters from Syria and Iraq scatter around the world.”
Continuing his exegesis, Bremmer crisply explains that Pakistan has nuclear weapons and its scientists have in the past sold nuclear material to U.S. enemies. “This country can become a source of either regional stability or extreme political instability. The U.S. may never get exactly what its pays for in Pakistan, but China will only be too glad to double down on its own investments if Trump decides to cash out entirely on this inconsistent ally.”
I find it striking that Salman Masood, the New York Times’ correspondent in Islamabad, seems to infuse Bremmer’s theory with further credence, by reporting that the Pakistan Army’s powerful chief, Gen. Qamar Javad Bajwa, has, after assuming command last year, “been reaching out to countries like China, Iran, Qatar, Russia and Saudi Arabia – building contacts that could help him cement his grip on power and reduce Pakistan’s reliance on the U.S.”
Furthermore, “Since the announcement from the Trump administration, Gen. Bajwa has stressed that Pakistan will not seek the resumption of American security aid and that his country is not dependent on it.”
Interestingly, Masood also informs that “there is already talk of a ‘Bajwa Doctrine’ with Pakistan’s approach to foreign and domestic policies reflecting the army chief’s vision.”
LIZ HAWLEY
Was unpleasantly taken aback when, browsing through the NYT at the local public library Sunday, I suddenly came across a fulsome obituary of Elizabeth Hawley covering two full-page columns, along with a largish photograph of her taken at her home office in 2014.
Times’ readers were informed that “Elizabeth Hawley Dies at 94; Chronicler of Everest Treks.” The well-pieced-together obit, penned by Rajneesh Bhandari in Kathmandu and Kai Shultz in New Delhi, traced the highlights of Hawley’s journalistic career based in Kathmandu where she “documented expeditions in the Himalayas for more than 50 years,” highlighting this wry praise by an admirer: “The Sherlock Holmes of the mountaineering world who never scaled a peak.”
Liz moved to Kathmandu from America in 1960 to work as a correspondent with Time Inc., though eventually she transited to Reuters.
Though Liz was not an outgoing personality, she was well respected as a thorough professional, particularly in the area of mountaineering.
One indelible personal memory of Liz is her driving to my house, soon after I returned home after King Birendra’s Tibet visit in 1976.
She reminded me of her request for an exclusive for Reuters: Tibet had not, up to that point, been ‘opened’ to foreign reporters, and I was one of only two journalists on that trip.
Two friends, in London and Vienna, sent me clippings of my published Tibet article – with byline and intro – in the International Herald Tribune.
Thanks, Liz. May your soul repose in everlasting peace.

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