The American press has started reviving the term AfPak since the middle of 2013. The Obama Administration prefers not to use this term officially. However, American experts use this term to denote Afghanistan and Pakistan as single theatre of war as part of the anti-terrorist campaign launched by NATO. It’s no mere chance that the term AfPak is being popularized. Most likely, the White House is working out a plan to end the Afghan war by signing two agreements with Afghanistan, as well as with Pakistan.
Islamabad has been a participant of the Afghan conflict since the deployment of Soviet forces in Afghanistan in 1979. However, impression of Afghanistan and Pakistan as a single military and political space was formed during the presidency of George W. Bush. In the autumn of 2001, the White House feared that riots in Pakistani cities might disrupt using the country as a base for launching operations against the Taliban. Since spring of 2004, the Pentagon helped the Pervez Musharraf government to carry out military operations in the north-eastern province of Waziristan where the Taliban set up its own quasi-state after its members moved to this region. On September 27 of 2006, the presidents of the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan met to settle the Afghan-Pakistani border disputes. The White House acted as a mediator in solving the Afghan-Pakistani armed conflict in May, 2007.
The appearance of the term AfPak was the result of this process. Its author is considered a prominent American diplomat Richard Holbrooke. Since the spring of 2009, American analysts have been using the term AfPak to analyze operations on the territories of Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, such an approach disappointed Islamabad and Delhi. On January 24, 2009, the Indian government said the term AfPak was unacceptable. In June, 2009 President Pervez Musharraf criticized the idea of AfPak. The common position of the two rivals compelled the US to adjust its position. Consequently, on January 21, 2010, Richard Holbrooke said the Barack Obama Administrations would refuse to use the term AfPak.
The revival of the term AfPak by American experts is linked to three aspects. In the autumn, 2012, talks in the framework of the “Dushanbe Quartet” on the formation of a four-sided agreement involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan ended in failure. The US tried to use the Pakistani territory to withdraw NATO forces from Afghanistan. Washington is afraid that Islamabad will start holding its own talks with some groups of Taliban. The situation is becoming more complicated as the US is determined to establish contacts with the Taliban. This intention was demonstrated by the visit to the Taliban office that was opened recently in Qatar of American diplomat James Dobbins on June 21.
However, a new wave of American interest in AfPak has sparked Pakistan’s anger. Firstly, Islamabad fears that the affirmation of the idea of AfPak will lead to the legalization of NATO operations on the Pakistani territory. At present, the alliance is launching attacks on the Taliban along the Afghan-Pakistani border as part of policy of supporting Pakistan. In the framework of single AfPak, the alliance can carry out such operations without Pakistan’s request.
Secondly, the use of the AfPak concept might create difficulties on the Afghan-Pakistani border. At present, the Durand Line of 1893 serves as the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Islamabad recognizes it but all Afghan leaders have challenged it.
Thirdly, in the past 20 years, American experts have qualified Afghanistan and Pakistan as failed states. Concerning Pakistan, this calls in question the capability of the Pakistani government to preserve its control over the country’s nuclear facilities. The Pakistani authorities express fear that the introduction of the AfPak term legalizes a discussion about Afghanistan and Pakistan as two almost equally failed states.
Fourthly, the tribal zones are another cause for concern of the Pakistani leaders. In 1970, they received the Federally Administered Tribal Areas status. Islamabad expresses fear that under the pretense of discussion of AfPak the tribal leaders might demand greater autonomy.
India rejects the concept of AfPak for some other reasons. Delhi does not recognize Pakistan within its contemporary borders saying that Jammu and Kashmir state was occupied by Islamabad. The introduction of the AfPak concept means, according to India, indirect recognition of the borders of Pakistan by the US and Afghanistan.
However, for the Barack Obama Administration, the AfPak project remains to be the best version in regional politics. It is determined to create a regional security system on the basis of agreements with Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Americans are afraid that after the withdrawal of NATO forces, China will start playing a leading role in the region, perhaps jointly with Russia. In short, the American AfPak project is aimed at countering the influence of the SCO and the CSTO on the region.
The US would suit both Pakistan and India as a “critical balancer”. But the US in the role of the developer of game rule is a cause for worry for the two countries. Consequently, to implement the AfPak project the Obama Administration will have to make compromises with India and Pakistan. On the contrary, Islamabad and Delhi will be away from the Afghan settlement, and this will not advantageous for the US.
Alexei Feneko, Ph.D. (history) is a leading fellow at the Institute for International Security Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences.