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Opinion: Trump's easy solutions for Afghanistan

Florian Weigand
November 17, 2016

The search for a quick fix in Afghanistan and Pakistan could lead US President-elect Donald Trump to support the wrong groups. Combating Islamists in the region requires long-term strategies, says DW's Florian Weigand.

Afghanistan Bagram US Luftwaffenstützpunkt
Image: Imago/UPI Photo

According to one of the most absurd theories surrounding Donald Trump, the US president-elect actually hails from Pakistan. A not-so-known Pakistani news channel, "Neo News," claimed that Trump studied at a local seminary in the South Asian country. A picture of a young boy with blond hair has been circulating on social media for quite some time. Many in Afghanistan and Pakistan have found the resemblance between the boy and the Republican politician striking.

It is just a happy coincidence, something that should be taken as a joke. In contrast, the overall sentiment about Trump's surprising victory over Hillary Clinton in the US election is that of disappointment and fear. Trump's anti-Muslim statements during the election campaign are fresh in the people's memory. Most Pakistanis believe that a person who is against Muslims is bound to favor their country's regional rival India.

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DW's Florian Weigand

And their fear is not totally unjustified. Hindu nationalists in India celebrated Trump's victory with religious fervor, calling the president-elect their savior. The billionaire politician will likely to be closer to India than to its troubled neighbor Pakistan, where religious minorities face immense discrimination and Islamic extremism is omnipresent.

Trump's dangerous lack of experience

In Pakistan's western neighborhood, the Afghans are also worried. Trump's focus on "America First" could lead to a drastic reduction in financial and military aid for Afghanistan. The president-elect's knowledge of Afghanistan is also very limited. Trump mentioned Afghanistan during his election campaign to draw extreme comparisons. For example, he claimed that "places like Afghanistan are safer" than some US cities.

This lack of foreign policy expertise could prove to be devastating in Pakistan and Afghanistan as Islamic militancy in both nations is a matter of international significance.

Just a reminder: Al Qaeda, the terror organization responsible for 9/11 attacks, was founded in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar near the Afghan border. The Afghan Taliban are gaining power and have captured swathes of territories in the war-torn country's important drug-producing regions. The eastern part of the country is home to the "Islamic State" (IS) militant group. Experts say that with an impending defeat in Iraq, IS fighters could pour into Afghanistan in big numbers.

Trump and his team need to take the region seriously. But experts fear that the president-elect's simplistic view on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and his search for seemingly easy solution, are likely to backfire.

No simple solutions

The main beneficiary of Trump's simplistic view on Afghanistan could be the Pakistani military. The powerful army in the Islamic country could proceed against IS with little fear of the US intervention while supporting the Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan at the same time. Another possible outcome would be the expansion of military power in Pakistan at the expense of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's democratically- elected government.

India's Hindu nationalists could also profit from this approach, as they are likely to take a tougher stance against their country's Muslims. Similarly, certain militant groups in Afghanistan would be seen as helpful if they only fight against the Taliban and IS, projecting a veneer of calm.

The easy and clear distinction between good and bad has never worked in South Asia. The diversity and complexity of the local culture, society and politics are hard to analyze and interpret even for the experts.

The US needs to learn from its Afghan experience in the 1980s. At that time, Washington supported Islamic militants in the battle against Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Exploiting the situation, then Pakistani military dictator General Zia ul Haq embarked on a nationwide Islamization drive in his country. Soviet communism is now history, but Islamic terrorism still haunts the world.

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