The Pakistan problem
It may be that the most critical foreign relations problem facing President Donald Trump, at least in the short term, is not Russia or China. It is Pakistan, which for years has been enabling terrorist groups in Afghanistan and thus, the rest of the world.
During testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, asked for a variety of things. Most critically, he said he needs more American troops. A few thousand more, in addition to the 8,400 he has available for counter-terrorist operations, would be helpful, the general said.
Clearly, Nicholson’s request should be considered by the Trump administration. U.S. forces in Afghanistan were drawn down by former President Barack Obama for political reasons, over the objections of military commanders.
About 20 Islamic terrorist organizations are operating in Afghanistan. Matters there have deteriorated to the extent that the country’s former rulers, the Taliban, now are considered by many to be the lesser of many evils. Nicholson even discussed a “reconciliation government” involving the Taliban and the current U.S.-linked administration.
During his testimony, Nicholson was asked repeatedly about other countries aiding the Taliban and other terrorist groups. Russia has been giving aid and comfort to the Taliban, the general noted. “I think their goal is to undermine the United States and NATO in Afghanistan,” he added.
If Trump plans to improve relations with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, he should insist on Moscow dropping support for the Taliban.
More critical is how Pakistan actually deals with terrorism, in comparison to how its leaders talk about the issue. Publicly, they are staunch allies.
But on the ground, the Pakistanis have given aid and comfort to terrorist groups since before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. They continue to do so, Nicholson told senators last week.
A real change in Pakistani policy is “the No. 1 factor that could produce a favorable result in Afghanistan,” Nicholson emphasized.
That makes the necessity of more honest relations between the United States and Pakistan clear. Trump should make it a top priority.