New Delhi: Donald Trump may be shaking up the world on trade, but his policy of “America First” is haemorrhaging in Afghanistan. Never being big on geopolitics and perhaps loathing it as well, Trump has, all the same, not been able to put together a strategy to contain the violence in the benighted South Asian nation. As was his wont, the US president blamed his predecessors for the mess in Afghanistan and promised to clean it up in record time. Nothing has changed really and, if anything, things have gotten worse. The armed opposition in Afghanistan, whether they claim allegiances to the Taliban or the Islamic State, or draw their sustenance from Pakistan, are totally seized of the reality that the United States does not have a strategy for the country. They are prepared to wait out the rest of Trump’s term and even a second one should he get it with a single aim to defeat America and destroy its Major Power pride. Distracted by the Democrats, “fake news”, immigration, Washington shenanigans, Russia, Robert Mueller, scrappy Europe, and so forth, Trump has no time for Afghanistan. The trouble for Donald Trump and the United States is that they cannot cut and run from Afghanistan as it was possible decades prior in Indochina. A nuclear rogue state like North Korea had Trump sweating some weeks ago; and the drama has scarcely ended. Imagine if Afghanistan falls to rogue elements after a US withdrawal and another 9/11 is planned but this time with stolen/ smuggled nuclear weapons. As secure as Pakistan, Afghanistan’s chief antagonist, may say its nuclear weapons are, Pakistan is also overrun by fanatics who consider the United States the epicentre of evil in this world. Anything could happen.

For an Afghanistan policy to work, it must have a multinational basis where the United States, as the longest occupying power, could have a leadership role. Other powers that ought to be involved are Russia, a previous occupier, and China, which has a definite interest in ensuring that Afghan militancy does not spill over and infect its restive Uighur populations. While Trump froths at the mouth at the mention of Iran, the fact still remains that no Afghan solution is possible without Iran’s cooperation. Since India does not share a border with Afghanistan any more, its role becomes limited to investing soft power and monies in the country. Pakistan, however, is Afghanistan’s closest and most dangerous neighbour, and it is beyond the capacity of the United States to coerce it for peace. Reduced to begging and borrowing from China, Pakistan still won’t give up its high-risk armed adventures in Afghanistan, and China and even Russia have more or less accepted Pakistan’s bad behaviour and elected to engage with it. In the world of terrorism, Pakistan has a thriving market for its blood-tainted bitcoins.

Donald Trump, however, has no inclination to see and understand the complex reality of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the United States has to bring other stakeholders in Afghanistan which includes the countries/ powers already mentioned besides Western Europe and key Arab states. Only a joint responsibility for Afghanistan will work. If the armed opposition realizes that no foreign power any longer backs their enterprises, they would be compelled to negotiate for peace. Multinational unity will be possible only if there is a negotiated settlement among the constituent states prior of the future shape and polity of Afghanistan. The United States may seek a liberal democracy but Russia and China could have objections and Islamic states might baulk from anything that is manifestly secular. But should there be a final settlement the armed opposition would have less success in having their rabid projects rammed through. But it must all start with the United States calling a meeting of Afghanistan’s immediate and near-neighbours to adopt a road map for peace and stability. The United States can’t do it alone as Russia couldn’t decades earlier. Donald Trump’s “America First” policy will carry no meaning if the US military bleeds in Afghanistan.

But a multinational solution for Afghanistan would seriously damage the basis for America’s trade wars with the rest of the world. It cannot squeeze the world on one hand and expect it to help in Afghanistan. Also, Donald Trump has to discard his blind hatred for Iran. In other words, Trump has to shed egocentricity and megalomania and embrace statesmanship and internationalism to save Afghanistan. It may be too much for Donald Trump but it is the only lifeline available for America.