The AF-Pak cat will be out of the White House bag soon
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US Defense Secretary earlier on Monday confirmed that the still-evolving strategy for Afghanistan will be one which will entail measures for Pakistan too. While there are indications galore to suggest that Pakistan would significantly be factored-in by the US in the Afghan policy, Mattis is only the second high-ranked US official after NSA Lt. Gen McMaster. Mattis indicated that the new strategy could change the nature of US military engagement in Afghanistan.

A modest surge of 5,000 troops to the already deployed 8,400 is expected. However, lawmakers and generals have put most of the blame on Pakistan’s alleged support for the Haqqani Network.

Washington is mulling over a strategy for Afghanistan in order to arrest the troubles of Afghanistan, where the Taliban and the ISIS K are gaining more territory and power. A modest surge of 5,000 troops to the already deployed 8,400 is expected. However, lawmakers and generals have put most of the blame on Pakistan’s alleged support for the Haqqani Network.

“You’re right to say that strategy is wrapping all that into a regional context, he said while responding to a question on Pakistan. He also said that speculations regarding a troop surge may turn out to be right. The modus operandi of combatants may change.

Read more: US tightens restrictions on Pakistan

A strategy for South Asia

The policy is likely to spell-out the country’s position on India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

President Trump is likely to meet his national security team in order to finalize the administration’s strategy for South Asia. In an interview with The Hindu newspaper, US Charge d’Affaires to India MaryKay L. Carlson confirmed that the Trump administration plans to unveil the new strategy in the next few weeks. The policy is likely to spell-out the country’s position on India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“The Trump administration is looking at a South Asia strategy — not a US-Pak strategy, US-India strategy,” she said, adding that bilateral relations were an important part of the overall strategy. “We will definitely take a holistic view,” the diplomat stated.

Lately, much to the consternation of Islamabad, Washington has strengthened its military, diplomatic and economic ties with India. Besides, it has ramped-up pressure on Pakistan to clamp down on subversive elements in the Afghan theater which are operating from its soil.

Read more: Changing mood in Washington towards Pakistan

Afghan policy and Pakistan

Some reports suggest that key Trump aides were exploring the possibility of replacing US soldiers in Afghanistan with private military contractors.

Reports and chatters point out towards a changed role for US troops stationed in Afghanistan. Some reports suggest that key Trump aides were exploring the possibility of replacing US soldiers in Afghanistan with private military contractors.

Private contractors are mostly ex-servicemen and operators who have a fair degree of freedom in their operations. With the lack of formal oversight, these contractors give the US much-needed flexibility. Contractors recruit manpower; establish contacts and normally help to siphon back funds.

Pakistan may find this eventuality in Afghanistan rather worrisome owing to the impasse over Raymond Davis and complaints regarding spies causing trouble in the country. Pakistan could find dealing with private contractors more difficult than coordinating with a regular army.

“They aren’t bound by any laws. They can resort to extreme measures without answering anyone. All in all, the contractors will provide flexibility to the US administration,” he said.

Defense analyst Lt Gen (r) Ghulam Mustafa told GVS that the contractors are well-trained and are deployed to perform specific security duties. “They aren’t bound by any laws. They can resort to extreme measures without answering anyone. All in all, the contractors will provide flexibility to the US administration,” he said.

Read more: Pak-US relations: Echoing old mantra?

Chances of contractors defeating the boisterous Taliban and the ISIS look rather thin. The likely policy thrust towards Pakistan makes this privatization of operations a dangerous development, and one that is likely to displease Islamabad.

“Senator McCain is probably leading the effort to get us what we need in here, up on the Hill [Congress], as is appropriate for him in his role as the chairman of the Armed Services Committee,”

Mattis went on to say that Senator McCain is playing an important role in chalking-out the new policy. “Senator McCain is probably leading the effort to get us what we need in here, up on the Hill [Congress], as is appropriate for him in his role as the chairman of the Armed Services Committee,” he said.

McCain visited the region earlier this month while appreciating Pakistan’s drive against terrorism called upon the country to mend ways. “If they don’t change their behaviour, maybe we should change our behaviour towards Pakistan as a nation,” he said earlier this month while reiterating the need for Pakistan to confront the Haqqani Network.

Read more: Of biscuits and hot tea-cups: US aid to Pakistan over the years

Senior analyst of South Asian affairs, Michael Kugelman while talking to GVS said: ”McCain has been a tough critic of Pakistan, but he has also sympathized with its fight on terror. Any strategy is developed by the White House, not Congress, but if the Trump administration is taking McCain’s inputs seriously, then there is a reason to believe that a policy likely to be tough on Pakistan could be just a little bit softer toward that country.”

The much-awaited Afghan strategy, when promulgated will most likely affect Pak-US ties negatively in the near future.

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